DEC authorizes garbage removal by rail

Progressive garbage facility in Holtsville, where garbage can Progressive garbage facility in Holtsville, where garbage can be seen baled and stockpiled beneath the blue tarp on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Sarah Crichton

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Stockpiled garbage could start moving off Long Island by rail as soon as Tuesday after the state environmental regulator Thursday gave an emergency authorization and a Long Island Rail Road strike was averted.

A deal, hammered out earlier this month, called for the trash to be trucked to a Brentwood facility, where it would be loaded on railcars and taken off the Island. The deal required the emergency authorization for the temporary rail/truck fix from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which regulates garbage.

Michael White, an attorney for Omni Recycling of Babylon, which brokered the deal, welcomed the announcement. "I'm delighted that together with the governor's office and the state DEC, we're going to avert this crisis on the East End and get the garbage moving off Long Island."

The trash buildup, common as tourists and seasonal residents boost the summer East End population, began piling up at garbage-handling facilities in Holtsville, Yaphank and West Babylon in recent weeks.

Garbage generated in Southampton, Riverhead, East Hampton and Southold is handled by Progressive Waste Solutions, a Canadian-based public company that will participate in the deal.

White said with the LIRR strike averted, empty gondola railcars that will take the garbage off the Island should start arriving at the Brentwood-based Elm Freight Handlers facility Monday, and the loaded cars are expected to start departing Tuesday.

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But he cautioned the 30- to 60-day, one-off operation was only a temporary fix. "We still need to work on a long-term solution for increasing waste disposal capacity that includes rail in Long Island's near future."

Long-haul flatbed trucks have typically traveled to the Island, bringing building supplies and lumber and leaving carrying off municipal waste. But their numbers have dwindled over the past year, because more of the building products now travel here by rail freight to avoid the persistent cost increases of long-haul trucking -- combined with traffic delays, toll increases and fuel price hikes.

The distribution center in Brentwood has a rail spur and freights other commodities on and off the Island, using New York & Atlantic Railway, the region's rail freight franchisee.The specially ordered gondola railcars -- tub-shaped cars with lids -- will be loaded with the plastic-wrapped bales of garbage already sprayed with "odor neutralizing agents" before arrival in Brentwood, according to the DEC.

The bales travel in the sealed gondolas on the LIRR tracks through to the Queens interchange yard, known as Fresh Ponds, and from there, the sealed gondolas will be switched on to a train operated by national carrier CSX, under contract to the New Jersey-based rail garbage hauler ESI. CSX takes the trash to its final destination, a permitted landfill in Kentucky.

New York & Atlantic said it had faced a shutdown of its freight operations until the LIRR labor dispute ended. Speaking after the DEC announced its approval and with the strike off the table, Paul Victor, the railway's president, said: "When the cars show up we'll move the empties out to Brentwood and we'll in turn be happy to move the freight once it's duly loaded in accordance with all applicable regulations." The authorization is set to expire Aug. 20, with a 30-day extension option.

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Jim Bunchuk, solid waste coordinator with the Town of Southold, where the transfer station was piled high with trash earlier this week, said residents had expressed surprise at the mounting garbage. "We're certainly grateful to be able to return to serving our residents with their garbage needs in the efficient and environmentally-sound way they've come to expect," he said.

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