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St. James downtown renovation project could begin next summer

Work along the Lake Avenue business corridor will include sewer line construction and replacement of a water main.

Mario Mattera, a board member of the Community

Mario Mattera, a board member of the Community Association of Greater St. James, said he and fellow residents are eager for work to start along the Lake Avenue business corridor. He is shown Thursday on Lake Avenue. Photo Credit: James Carbone

An ambitious project to remake St. James’ downtown could start as early as next summer, Smithtown officials said.

The approximately $8.5 million project will be among the most significant infrastructure projects in the town in decades and will center on the Lake Avenue business corridor, closing portions of the road for four to six months. Work will include installation of a dry sewer line, replacement of an aging water main and streetscape improvements. Town officials have also spoken with Verizon and PSEG about coordinating utilities work in the area.

“There is going to be a cost to businesses, in terms of foot traffic,” Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said. “But we feel very confident that this will benefit those businesses” in the long-term.

The town council in December voted to hire Bohemia-based P.W. Grosser Consulting to help select a firm to oversee sewer design. Town officials and local business people have said that sewers are needed for an area that now relies on septic systems, allowing for water-intense uses such as large restaurants.

Councilmen Thomas Lohman and Thomas McCarthy are meeting weekly with town staffers on a plan to divide the mile-long project into block-long segments to minimize Lake Avenue closures, starting at North Country Road and working south to Patricks Way.

Traffic will be detoured to side streets during construction, which will take place during the day. Lohmann said nighttime work would cost as much as 30 percent more and would be too loud for nearby households.

Town officials have said they hope that the line will eventually link to a sewage treatment plant planned if development is approved at the Gyrodyne property near the Brookhaven Town border. Company officials have said they are open to that idea, but have not committed to it.  

Mario Mattera, a board member of the Community Association of Greater St. James who also sits on the Suffolk County Water Authority board, said he and fellow residents were eager for work to start.

“We commend Wehrheim and the council,” he said. “Right now the only people making money on Lake Avenue are two massage parlors and a vape shop.” 

That may be an overstatement, but Wehrheim said in a December interview that vacancy on the avenue has reached as high as 33 percent in recent years.

Even as the St. James project moves forward, planned Kings Park sewers, which town officials have said are similarly important for that hamlet to thrive, appear to be still stalled in the New York State Legislature. Funding of $20 million is in place but the town needs the legislature’s permission to transfer a piece of land to Suffolk County for use as a pump station.

Wehrheim planned to draw attention to the town’s predicament at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s inauguration, and he and some heads of town departments may make a lobbying trip to visit key state officials in Albany in early 2019, town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said. “We want to show them where we are with projects and why we can’t move forward with them because of red tape.”

Approximate costs, expected to be funded by bonding or state and Suffolk County grants :

$3.9 million for sewer line

$2.4 million for water main

$2.2 million for road work

$175,000 planning, outreach and other

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