The garbage train is ready to roll. Finally.
The mountains of waste that have been piling up for three months in facilities in Holtsville, Yaphank and elsewhere are at last beginning to be taken away. A looming health and environmental crisis will be averted. That's good.
But the convoluted process that produced this solution -- with its twists and turns -- is worrisome. The circumstances that created the problem still will be in play next year, and the year after. A permanent fix for Long Island's garbage woes is urgently required, so we don't simply lurch from one annual crisis to another -- and end up with a second garbage barge fiasco.
The root of the problem was, ironically, a piece of good news for Long Island -- a reduction in truck traffic on our roads thanks to our increasing success in importing goods and supplies via rail. But the 18-wheelers that made all those deliveries also hauled solid waste off Long Island as they departed -- as many as 200 trucks a day, taking as much as 5,000 tons of garbage daily.
Having fewer trucks became more of a problem as the weather warmed, because that's when homeowners and businesses produce more garbage. This year the mounds grew as spring turned to summer. It took time for a group of solid-waste management companies to convince state officials of the seriousness of the situation, time to put together a deal with rail companies to remove the waste, and time to find a suitable location to load the bales of garbage onto train cars. It also took far more time than anticipated to actually get the equipment here -- national freight operator CSX sent railroad cars to New Jersey instead. Rerouting trains, it turns out, is a complex operation.
Even now, the deal is not completely done. The first cars -- a grand total of three -- are scheduled to leave a Brentwood facility Tuesday laden with garbage bales. Another 16 are supposed to arrive tomorrow and Thursday and, maybe, six more on Friday. Those involved in the negotiations say 40 cars a week are needed for at least one month to haul off the backlog.
Customers will pay for this. Solid waste companies have had to pay truckers a lot more to try to lure them here to keep piles in check until the trains arrived, extra costs that eventually will be passed on to property owners. State environmental watchdogs, to quell community opposition in Queens, insisted on monitors at a transfer point in Ridgewood, another cost to be passed on.
Once the mounds are gone, everyone involved needs to start talking about the future so we don't reach crisis stage replete with contortions again. The most obvious solution would be to set up a cost-effective system of removing waste via rail. Yaphank's Brookhaven Rail Terminal -- the principal player in the successful increase in importing goods by rail -- could be part of the solution. The facility could have helped in the current crisis, but was too controversial because of a pending Town of Brookhaven lawsuit over alleged sand mining and contamination at the site. The suit needs to be resolved promptly.
We're going to keep making garbage, and the trucks are not coming back on a regular basis. Let's devise a plan now to deal with this certainty, instead of wasting time when there's no time to waste.