The Suffolk County Legislature recently voted to sell 230 acres of land in Yaphank to the Brookhaven Rail Terminal (BRT). BRT, already established on Long Island, has another site situated on 90 acres to the north of this Yaphank land. The company claims the additional 230 acres will allow them to store farm fresh produce from the east end on its way to the New York City market. They claim the land will also be used to help the wineries transport wine to other parts of the state and nation. It all sounds so….nice. What could possibly be wrong with all this mom and apple pie motivation?
Let’s start with BRT’s refusal to divulge and commit to any development plans for the land. Yes, you read that right; there is no proposal on what they will actually DO with the land. Will they first sand mine it? No answer. How much will be excavated and cleared? No answer. Will they contribute to air pollution and noise pollution with increased truck traffic? No answer. Will they impact the Carmans River watershed, which lies just to the east of the property? No answer. Will they seek exemption from town, state and federal environmental laws as they did on the first 90 acre parcel? No answer. Will they hook up to Long Island’s largest landfill, the Brookhaven landfill just adjacent to the site and bring in more construction and demolition debris from New York City? No answer. What exactly will they do with the land? Silence.
Silence is not golden. The public deserves answers and has a right to know what the future holds for this large land mass. Developments of large land masses in densely populated areas can and usually do redefine the character of the community. But wait—that’s what we have elected officials for—to dig down deep and get answers, right? Surely the 18 member Suffolk Legislature would demand answers. Nope. The indifference by the Suffolk County Legislature during the public hearing and vote on this matter was deeply disturbing. Only Legislator Ed Romaine and Legislator Kate Browning voted against the sale. The other 16 legislators really had no substantive opinion. Legislator Rob Calarco said he liked the project and thinks it will help Patchogue. He explained that since Yaphank was an industrial area anyway, this was the right place for this project. Legislator Anker had concerns that morning, but remained silent during the hearing. Legislator Stern assured me that BRT would have to follow state and federal rules. Really? This was news to me since they are not doing so in the parcel they already own to the north.
In fact, members of the Brookhaven Community Coalition provided the Legislature with aerial photographs taken 24 hours prior to the hearing, showing that the current BRT property was being sand mined down to approximately 60 feet below land surface. The company is doing so without any permits from the town, state or federal government. Conveniently, BRT was issued an exemption to these pesky laws since they are classified as rail transportation. It seems federal law goes out the window when a railway is involved, and the quality of life in a community needs not be considered.
The bottom line here is that not only did Yaphank and Brookhaven residents lose another part of the rural character of their community but this was a loss for all residents of Suffolk County. Suffolk owned this land. That means it was held for the public. The county was anxious to sell our land for a quick $20 million to help balance the budget. However, that does not justify the “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” deal that was arranged. So many residents and civic leaders attended the public hearing and spoke eloquently and passionately about the plight and degradation of Yaphank and lower Brookhaven. There’s the not-so-scenic, gigantic 270 foot tall landfill; the incredibly odoriferous 62 acre Long Island Compost facility; and now we will have one of the largest intermodal rail facilities around. Community members spoke about the love of our County and of our open lands. Not one resident supported the land sale. Not one.
This is why we have named this vote the “Judas Vote.” The county sold the land for 40 pieces of silver and betrayed the public trust. This sale will come back to haunt the county. Allowing our lands to be mined, cleared and abused is a permanent loss to our island and our sustainability. Shame on Suffolk County.
*Photo at top is an aerial photo of the existing BRT facility in Yaphank