Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column
Through his kitchen window, John Degnan had a view of a tree-lined landscape beyond his backyard fence. Until he didn't.
The view changed when the trees came down to make way for construction of a school district maintenance building. These days Degnan looks out at a railroad siding and storage yard.
The trees had blocked the view of the LIRR's Sayville storage yard and tempered the noise from Payloaders moving materials around it. During a recent Watchdog visit, Degnan's backyard was filled with the beeps of Payloaders in reverse and crashes as the machines spilled their contents onto the ground.
The site is a former freight yard still used by customers of the New York & Atlantic Railway, the rail operator that leases the LIRR's freight operation, to unload lumber, LIRR spokesman Sam Zambuto said.
The former wooded buffer behind a row of backyards was cleared when the school district began work on a new maintenance facility next to the rail yard.
The yard contains both new and scrap materials, Zambuto said, including "concrete ties, wood ties, rail, insulated joints, switch material, grade crossing surface panels, ballast [stone], communication poles, culvert pipe, and other track repair materials."
Which is what Degnan and his neighbors now see.
The view isn't their only concern: There also is worry that the materials -- in particular, the creosote-soaked railroad ties -- could damage nearby wetlands.
Creosote, now banned, was a fungicide and pesticide used to preserve the ties from insects and decay, and Zambuto said the ties in the Sayville yard are weathered, generally 20 to 30 years old, with no remaining odor associated with the initial treatment.
"LIRR is using the creosote-treated ties in full accordance with all applicable laws and regulations," he said.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation requires that railroad ties must be at least 100 feet from the wetlands boundary. Zambuto said the distance at the Sayville yard exceeds that distance. The DEC said that, on the most recent staff visit, the site was found to meet state requirements.
As for the view: Clearly, the storage yard isn't going anywhere. It's one of the LIRR locations where old equipment and materials are collected for economical management, Zambuto said -- for instance, where old railroad ties, which cannot be reused or recycled, can be removed by an authorized scrap collector.
And though it won't replicate the former wooded buffer, a row of greenery is planned. School district spokeswoman Linda Mittiga said the district is trying to let the area "be as private as it can be." To accomplish that, two rows of arborvitae will be planted along the boundary, she said, next to an 8-foot privacy fence.
Arborvitae is regarded as an effective visual screen, one that's dense enough that it can temper noise. But it's not known to be particularly fast-growing.
Which means Degnan and his neighbors can count on a greener backyard view; one that may even be scenic. But not tomorrow.
Eye on stop sign for Lindenhurst
I live south of Montauk Highway in Lindenhurst on East Riviera Drive, across the street from a canal. My neighbors and I regularly cross the street to the canal, but drivers show us no regard. Across the canal, our twin road, West Riviera Drive, has a stop sign. We could use one, too, between Montauk Highway and Santa Barbara Road.
-- Eileen LaVigne, Lindenhurst
We hope to have an answer for you later this spring, Mrs. LaVigne.
The Town of Babylon said it plans to conduct a traffic study soon to determine if a stop sign is warranted on the roughly 1,000-foot stretch of road. The study will evaluate such factors as vehicle speeds and traffic and pedestrian volume.
Town spokesman Tim Ruggeri asked that LaVigne draft a written complaint for the town's Traffic Safety Division. She did, and we forwarded it to Ruggeri on her behalf.
"On more than one occasion, I personally have narrowly avoided being hit while trying to cross the street to the waterfront where my boat is docked," she wrote. The danger posed by traffic "is the subject of many conversations between neighbors."
Babylon residents with safety concerns on town roads can call the town's Citizen's Services office at 631-957-7474.
-- MICHAEL R. EBERT