A rebuttal regarding Brookhaven Rail Terminal

THE LONG ISLAND ADVANCE - August 23, 2012

By MaryAnn Johnston 

I testified before the county on plans to sell public land in Yaphank. Suffolk has many problems and critical issues: unemployment, huge budget shortfalls, stress to the natural environment, high taxes, traffic congestion and a diminished quality of life. Any approach to address these issues must allow our citizens to rely on government to provide comprehensive, independent and nonpartisan information. The county’s proposal to sell the land in Yaphank to the BRT owners exemplifies a process increasingly designed to disguise poor policy. 

The county’s planning director, Sarah Lansdale, states the sale had a “full and thorough environmental review.” The fact is the review she alludes to included absolutely no analysis of the impacts of an intermodal freight rail. No analysis of traffic, air quality, groundwater or impacts to adjacent communities of an intermodal rail was even contemplated. Further, the county avoids a “full and thorough environmental review” by claiming no knowledge of the BRT’s intended use — even as Brookhaven Town reviews BRT expansion. We must demand more from the professionals we pay to properly advise our policy makers. 

Lansdale states the sale is linked to the construction of a “sewage treatment plant” and that the discharge from this unconstructed STP won’t enter the river’s fresh waters, but will flow south, discharging into the tidal waters — or right into the impaired waters of the Great South Bay! The county’s own health department study recognized that nearly 80 percent of this region’s STPs failed to meet drinking water standards much of the time. Environmentalists, civics and most planning professionals recognize that the 10p/PL drinking water standard is inadequate to protect the health and ecology of ground or surface waters. 

Lansdale’s statement that “to the fullest extent possible under the law, the county has provided the most extensive planning and environmental protection of the river as possible,” is questionable. The easiest, most effective way to protect the environmental quality of the watershed is through responsible zoning and coordinated preservation efforts. The county has spent millions of dollars to preserve and protect Suffolk’s environment. Yet now, inexplicably, it reverses gears and tells us the sale of over 230 acres in the heart of the Carmans watershed is the best strategy possible. In light of the facts, that statement seems absurd. 

Additionally, Lansdale advises the price at a mere $20 million is “a fair price,” even without an independent appraisal. The truth is, the sale of public land to the BRT is simply an easy fix to appease special interests while making a quick buck. One-shot revenue deals never make long-term fiscal sense, and they do nothing to address the underlying cause of budget shortfalls. Selling precious assets for less than their maximum value is shortsighted, and depletes the county of those assets in the future. 

Protection of the Carmans watershed requires that we balance economic development, environmental quality and social equities through reliable information and a commitment by government to sound science and fiscal responsibility. Meaningful community-based planning can empower and accomplish these goals. Unfortunately, the current process fails our citizens on all fronts.

MaryAnn Johnston is the former president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization.