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Suffolk legislature to vote on sewer funding

Waste water in the final clarifier tanks at

Waste water in the final clarifier tanks at the Bergen Point Treatment Plant, Bergen Ave., Suffolk County Department of Public Works Southwest Sewer District #3. (Oct. 13, 2006) Credit: Michael E. Ach

The Suffolk Legislature is expected to vote Tuesday on a last-minute bipartisan amendment to add $21 million to next year's capital budget to finance a sewer plant for the ambitious Ronkonkoma Hub project.

The amendment, supported by the Bellone administration, surfaced after Brookhaven and Islip officials late last week raised concerns that failure to include sewer plant funding in the capital budget could endanger the viability of a top regional economic development project.

Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko, a Democrat, and Islip Supervisor Thomas Croci, a Republican, are expected to testify Tuesday before lawmakers in Hauppauge. Town officials said sewer plant funding is required before the project's developer, TRITEC Real Estate Co. Inc., can get bank financing for the project.

"TRITEC can't get financing until they can show how they are going to flush the toilets," said Lesko's chief of staff Brian Beedenbender.

Croci said the project can reap huge economic gains. "We're looking to take the limited resources we have and plug it into a project with the biggest transformative effect," he said.

"It is important to keep this project moving forward aggressively," said County Executive Steve Bellone, labeling it a "critically important part of the county's economic development strategy."

Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), minority leader, called the project a "tremendous idea," but questioned why all $21 million needs to be budgeted next year. He said "it is impossible to meet that time line" for 2013 construction because the sewer district has yet to be formed, land has not been acquired and design is not under way. Kennedy said he favors authorizing $5 million next year and $14 million in 2014 "unless someone makes a compelling case."

But Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) said full funding sends a strong signal of county support. "We've got to show that we have skin in the game to make sure the infrastructure will be in place so the project can go forward," he said.

The transit-oriented, mixed-use project, according to preliminary town plans, would develop 50 acres on the north side of the Ronkonkoma train station, and include about 800 housing units, and 100,000 to 200,000 square feet of retail and commercial space in a pedestrian-friendly setting.

A $4-million state grant will finance the design of a 500,000-gallon-a-day sewage treatment plant on 10 county-owned acres in Islip.

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