Huntington Town officials Thursday demanded the state reconsider plans to build a large rest area on the eastbound side of the Long Island Expressway between exits 51 and 52 and stop clearing trees from the area.
Town leaders said they learned of the plans to build a 9,000-square-foot facility with 200 parking spaces when they started asking questions after residents called on Wednesday to ask why trees were being cut down. The site is now a narrow "text stop" heavily used by resting truckers.
Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone said he had no advance notice of the tree removal or plans to upgrade the rest area to a major stop for motorists. He said Thursday that he is outraged by the "environmental nightmare" at the site and the state's failure to work with the town.
"At its best the state's actions were shameless," he said. "We're not just going to stand by."
Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said in an email Thursday that discussions about the plans "are preliminary, and we look forward to a robust dialogue with our local partners and stakeholders moving forward."
Huntington Town Board member Susan Berland said the state has ordered the clearing to stop and that the town and state will probably meet next week.
In a letter faxed to Cuomo Thursday, Huntington officials noted that town and other leaders have opposed efforts to put a large rest stop at that site for almost two decades.
"We were shocked when we learned that clearing of the property had already begun and the Department of Transportation had advertised for bids on construction," Petrone and Berland wrote in the letter.
They urged the state to return to a proposal to put the rest stop, including a Taste of New York store to showcase local and state products, farther east at Exit 67.
The Suffolk County Legislature in May budgeted $1.6 million for a new Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Yaphank, hoping to pair its building with a Taste of New York store at Exit 67 on the LIE.
But Vito A. Minei, executive director of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead, said he was notified that plans had changed. "I was called about a month or so ago by the governor's representative on Long Island that he [Cuomo] had decided to move it to the Exit 51 rest area," Minei said.
The state on Aug. 11 sought a bid, due Sept. 3, for a "Long Island Expressway Rest Area Upgrade at Exit 51/52," according to the state's contract reporter, which lists bid opportunities. The Department of Transportation website notes an Aug. 13 "Pre-Bid Informational Meeting" was held for the same project.
Tree clearing started Wednesday and continued yesterday morning, residents near the site said.
"We had no meetings, no input and no discussions," said Sheila Saks, former president of House Beautiful Dix Hills Civic Association. "No one knew about the project until they started to clear the land."
Larry Feld, commissioner for the Dix Hills Fire District, which includes the rest stop site, raised concerns over "more trucks and idling, increased call volume, more motor vehicle accidents and drug activity," he said.