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Queens leaders oppose Suffolk rail hub

A proposal to sell Suffolk County land to

A proposal to sell Suffolk County land to expand the rail yards at Yaphank met unexpected opposition Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, from two Queens legislators who fear the expansion will increase pressure on the Glendale rail yard. This is the Yaphank rail yard June 22, 2012. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Unexpected opposition to the controversial $20 million sale of Suffolk County land to expand the new Yaphank rail hub arose Wednesday from Queens officials.

But after nearly two hours of testimony, the Suffolk Legislature's Ways and Means Committee voted 3-2 to discharge the sale resolution without recommendation so it can be voted on by the full legislature next Thursday. However, several legislators called for changes to the sale contract that would provide for community input if problems arise at the Yaphank site.

Aides to State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Ozone Park) and Assemb. Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) urged county lawmakers to block the sale of the 230 acres. They warned that the move would increase freight traffic coming from Yaphank to Queens, further jamming the 10-acre Glendale rail yard. The yard became a transit point for city garbage when New York began shipping waste by rail five years ago, the aides said.

"We'll get your garbage behind my house . . . and that not fair," said Edward Cataldo, whose home backs onto the Glendale freight yard.

The proposed land sale is important to Suffolk because officials already have included the funds in their cash flow projections through the end of this year as they seek to close the county's $180 million to $300 million shortfall.

But local opposition has arisen as well. On Tuesday night, about 40 Yaphank residents testified against the sale at a public hearing. Brookhaven Rail Terminal in Yaphank already has opened a 28-acre site, and is looking to buy the county acreage -- though it has not said precisely how the property would be used. The private company currently moves stone aggregate and brings in flour from North Dakota, but has also talked about moving produce from local farms. The company says rail freight that moves through the terminal removes "tens of thousands of trucks" from roads in the metropolitan area.

Ben Zwirn, a Bellone administration aide, warned at Wednesday's committee hearing that "the county is in bad shape" and will need further layoffs or cuts if the property sale does not go through. He said projections about the terminal's impact on the Queens freight yard are premature.

Brookhaven Rail president Andy Kaufman said there are no plans to transport waste through the facility and emphasized any move to do so would have to be fully vetted by both town and state agencies.

Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), whose district includes the terminal, called for more study and safeguards before a sale is approved. "Once the ink is dry on the contract, the concerns of the county will not be addressed," she said.

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