Darnell Tyson, chief deputy commissioner of the Suffolk County Public...

Darnell Tyson, chief deputy commissioner of the Suffolk County Public Works Department, told legislators Tuesday that the initial purchase of electric buses is part of a pilot program.  “The whole point of the pilot is to do this in a thoughtful manner, to make sure that we monitor and assess, and to correct,” he said. Credit: Barry Sloan

Suffolk lawmakers Tuesday authorized $5,375,000 for the county’s first 12 battery-electric buses, part of County Executive Steve Bellone’s plan to transition to an all-electric fleet of vehicles by 2030.

The new buses, which the county plans to bid for early next year and receive in 2024, will help Suffolk meet the goals of Bellone’s May 2021 executive order directing the Public Works Department to electrify its fleet. The directive is part of an ongoing investment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality, Bellone said.

“It is our job on the local level to ensure we are leading the way and doing everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint and harmful emissions from transportation to create a cleaner, healthier environment for our residents,” Bellone said in a statement. “This funding will help Suffolk achieve its goal of a zero-emission fleet by 2030.”

The program will be funded with $4.3 million in federal funds, $337,500 in state money and a $737,500 county bond, according to county documents.

The benefits of electric buses include zero tailpipe emissions, a quieter ride and lower fuel and maintenance costs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. However, a November report from the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative Albany think tank, noted that electric school buses typically cost $150,000 to $275,000 more than diesel buses.

The vote followed 45 minutes of discussion with legislators — mostly members of the Republican caucus — questioning how the batteries will be disposed, if the battery range could withstand the bus routes and the increased upfront cost over diesel-powered buses.

The legislature voted 16-1 in favor of the plan with Legis. Nick Caracappa, (C-Selden), the chairman of the legislature’s public works, transportation and energy committee, voting against it.

Caracappa said he did not have enough information to determine if the program could work for Suffolk County.

“It's not enough research to rush into something,” he said after the vote. “We can wait, get more information, maybe catch up to technology and not just repeat other people's mistakes.”

Darnell Tyson, chief deputy commissioner of the county Public Works Department, stressed the initial purchases are part of a pilot program. The county can adjust as the technology advances, Tyson said.

“The whole point of the pilot is to do this in a thoughtful manner, to make sure that we monitor and assess, and to correct,” he told the legislature.

The legislature also on Tuesday voted to authorize $12,566,081 in funding to purchase 16 hybrid electric buses. The county’s 155-bus fleet includes 73 hybrid vehicles.

In another action, the legislature voted in favor of an agreement between the state, Huntington Town and the New York City-based conservation organization Open Space Institute Land Trust, Inc. regarding the potential acquisition of a former seminary property in Lloyd Harbor. The 200-acre waterfront parcel was home to the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception where men trained to be priests until 2012, Newsday previously reported.

Under the agreement, the state would fund 50% of the purchase price, Suffolk County and Huntington Town would each pay 25%, according to Mikael Kerr, a representative of the county Economic Development and Planning Department.

He did not disclose the price and said the buyers had yet to make an offer.

Huntington Town plans to hold a public hearing on the proposal at 7 p.m., Jan. 4 at Huntington Town Hall.

Representatives from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which owns the property, did not respond to a request for comment.

With Deborah Morris

Clarification: An agreement for the potential purchase of a former seminary property in Lloyd Harbor does not include the seminary building. A previous version of this story was unclear about the terms of the proposal.

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