Kings Park residents submit public comments on proposed rail line to haul ash, debris off Long Island
A Smithtown businessman’s proposed freight rail facility in Kings Park to haul incinerator ash and construction debris off Long Island has polarized hamlet residents.
The plan, awaiting review by a federal rail regulator, has support from some local businesses and elected officials including Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim, who say it is one of few practical solutions to the looming waste crisis the town and other municipalities face ahead of the scheduled 2024 closure of the Brookhaven landfill, the current destination for the town's ash.
But neighbors and civic groups say those who live near the proposed site between Old Northport Road and Sunken Meadow State Parkway — an area already marked by heavy industry, incinerators and capped landfills — should not have to bear daily lumbering freight trains too. In recent weeks the town has posted a fact sheet about the proposal to its website and residents have entered a flurry of comments into the public record of the regulator, the Surface Transportation Board.
“Between the pollution of it all and the noise, it’s going to be terrible,” said Michelle Vultaggio, 41, who lives on Glen Lane, about a tenth of a mile north of the site. Vultaggio, an insurance adjuster who works from home, said she worried the facility would worsen air quality for her 11-year-old son and bring noise and fumes.
Businessman Toby Carlson, who operates a waste transfer facility at the 82-acre site, last fall submitted plans to the transportation board for 5,000 feet of track off the Long Island Rail Road Port Jefferson rail line. Rail would eliminate thousands of truck trips now made to and from his site each year, he said.
In September, federal officials granted Carlson’s request for an environmental assessment of the proposal, instead of a more rigorous and time-consuming environmental impact statement; a draft is expected to be released this spring. In January, the board opened a proceeding to decide on Carlson's request for a streamlined authorization to build and run the rail line; proceedings last up to nine months. An authorized proposal would still face years of local environmental review, zoning and permitting, so the rail line would not be operable immediately following the landfill's scheduled closure.
Town officials once concentrated sand mining and other heavy industry in the Old Northport Road area. In recent years they have encouraged cleanup and diverse new uses including a solar farm, planned soccer complex and a day care center, Wehrheim said. With proper oversight, a rail facility could fit that new vision while addressing the town’s waste problem, he said.
“We in government are going to have to come up with a remedy, and there are going to be people who don’t like the remedy,” said Wehrheim. “We will insist on the applicant doing what we need to do so the environment is safe and residents are protected.”
But Linda Henninger, a local civic leader, warned that Carlson’s proposal did not rule out the possibility of more train traffic in the future. She said the site is dangerously close to homes. “There are homes, backyards and kids’ play sets within 500 feet. No way did anyone move into this area thinking they were going to be living behind a diesel rail yard.” Carlson said his design could not accommodate more than one train per day and that state permits limit the amount of material that can be processed at the site.
David Tonjes, Stony Brook University researcher who studies solid waste management, said the dispute illustrated the vicissitudes of environmental justice even in one of the most prosperous towns on Long Island. “It’s better to have organized waste management than to dump haphazardly, but that stuff has to go somewhere, and somebody’s going to be impacted,” he said.
Freight rail proposal
- One 25-car diesel freight train per day
- Haul in vehicles and construction materials
- Haul out up to 1,500 tons of wetted ash in sealed containers and debris under tarp
- Indoor waste transfer, state-of-the-art emissions controls for diesel engines, according to Carlson