Broookhaven residents contend lack of details in land sale

Photo credit: Joseph D. Sullivan | Brookhaven Railroad Terminal in Yaphank, which opened in September 2011, has two diesel trains, and one railcar alone can carry four truckloads' worth of freight. (June 22, 2012)

August 21, 2012

Community members came out in force Tuesday to question the proposed sale of 230 acres of Suffolk County-owned land in Yaphank to operators of Long Island's first truck-rail depot. 

Sale of the land is vital to County Executive Steve Bellone's administration because the county's cash flow projections already anticipate the $20 million in revenue in November. 

At a nearly two-hour, contentious public hearing before the Suffolk County Legislature, several Yaphank residents voiced concerns about the sale to Oakland Transportation Holdings LLC, which operates Brookhaven Rail Terminal on Sills Road directly south of the Long Island Expressway. 

The fledgling private venture built a rail spur that now takes in flour, crushed stone and biofuel for distribution locally, eliminating thousands of long-haul truck freight trips on Long Island highways.

It began operations less than a year ago at the site contiguous to the 230-acre tract Bellone wants to sell to help meet the county's $530 million shortfall. Its operators have said they want to expand to build a dry and refrigerated storage warehouse that will also be serviced by rail. The expansion could enable them to export locally produced goods, they have said. 

But residents and representatives of two Yaphank-based civic groups expressed anxiety about a lack of detail on what might happen after the sale.

"There's a whole lot that still has to be ironed out," said Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who represents the area, adding that community representatives have told her they weren't opposed but wanted rail yard operators to address their concerns about future development.

Richard Amper, of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said, "We're looking at it as a mystery -- even a secret project -- none of them will tell you what it is."

The concerns were countered by support for the sale and depot, including from a range of business groups and state Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue).

If the sale goes through and the land is developed as operators have laid out, federal railroad officials will have the final say over what can be done at the site.In response to legislators' concerns that the proposed sale had not gone to a formal request for proposal process, assistant county attorney Robert Braun said, before Oakland Transportation made its offer, only two "extremely inadequate" responses -- in the tens of thousands of dollars -- had been received. Oakland's offer would net the county $19.25 million after commissions and fees, and exceeds a recent appraisal, he said.

The legislature closed the hearing, which allows for the possibility of a final vote at its next meeting on Sept. 13.

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