Work on a Kings Park sewer system may be delayed for at least another year after crucial legislation failed to pass in Albany last week, Smithtown officials said.
“We are disappointed,” said Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim. “This is very significant for us.”
After Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year promised $40 million in funding for long-awaited sewers in downtown Kings Park and Smithtown, where development is hamstrung by a reliance on septic systems, local officials identified a small piece of town parkland in Kings Park for transfer to Suffolk County to build a sewer system pump station. Construction was to finish by 2019.
But transfers of municipal parkland require both the State Legislature’s and the governor’s approval, a process known as alienation. Dozens of local bills like it are typically enacted with little fanfare at the end of session in Albany each year. This one, which would have benefitted the home district of Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan (R-East Northport), passed that body. It did not get a vote in the Assembly.
Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said that failure was a message of sorts from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) to Flanagan. The two have grappled this year over several issues, including speed cameras, charter schools and standardized testing.
“Holding this bill — among others — hostage will certainly get Flanagan’s attention,” Fitzpatrick said. He said a total of 11 small scale, local bills were held up.
He said those bills usually pass in a flurry of end-of-session deal making. But this year, “Heastie was not going to give in to Flanagan on anything, because he’s confident they [the Democrats] are going to win the Senate and be able to pass whatever they want.”
Flanagan dismissed Fitzpatrick’s assessment. Heastie has not contacted him to negotiate, he said, adding that he’d managed to pass local bills during his own tenure in the Assembly. “I suggest he [Fitzpatrick] do the same,” he said. “I suggest he focus on getting the job done.”
Heastie did not respond to requests for comment; nor did the governor’s office or Suffolk County officials.
In Smithtown, where local officials and business owners have worked for years to plan for sewering, reaction was bitter.
“A little piece of paper shouldn’t prevent us from moving forward with a shovel-ready plan,” town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said. “It’s literally paperwork that’s preventing us from massive economic development that will change the future of Kings Park for the better.”
Linda Henninger, president of the Kings Park Civic Association, who worked for years on a revitalization plan that hinged on sewer construction, said that “what happened with this bill clearly reflects what is wrong with government. Elected officials that put a roadblock up should be ashamed of themselves.”
Wehrheim said that town officials are hopeful that the legislature might take up the bill if it reconvenes later this summer, but have spoken with County Executive Steve Bellone about an alternate plan. “We’re going to look for other parcels we can use without alienation,” he said.
Flanagan said that while the Assembly might reconvene this summer, it was unlikely the Senate would. “We’ve done our work,” he said.