A view of the gated and fenced entry way into...

A view of the gated and fenced entry way into Lawrence Aviation Industries Inc. in Port Jefferson Station on April 2, 2014. Credit: Daniel Brennan

A nonprofit run by Suffolk County plans to sell parts of a Port Jefferson Station Superfund site to recoup more than $17 million in unpaid back taxes while setting aside another portion of the property for a possible railroad yard or train station, according to multiple officials familiar with the plan.

If it comes to fruition, officials said, the plan could finally resolve longstanding issues at Lawrence Aviation Industries, a shuttered airplane parts manufacturing company on Sheep Pasture Road that in 2000 became part of the federal toxic waste cleanup program after polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos and other hazardous materials were found on the property.

The plan also may open the door to a pair of high-priority mass transit goals touted for decades by state and local officials: relocating the Port Jefferson train station and electrifying the Long Island Rail Road's Huntington branch.

While questions remain, officials said they were cautiously optimistic that the proposal would help clean up one of Suffolk's most notorious eyesores.

"This has been a nightmare for the folks in the area," County Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) told Newsday. "But now this is something that can be productive and something we can be proud of."

The plan took a step forward on Dec. 21 when the Suffolk Legislature approved a settlement of a federal lawsuit allowing the Suffolk County Landbank Corp. to sell the property.

The nonprofit, established in 2013 by the county to sell so-called "brownfield" sites, can sell up to 84 acres of the 125-acre site, landbank executive director Sarah Lansdale said in an interview; the remaining 41 acres will be preserved as open space.

The entire property has been valued at between $15.6 million and $19.2 million if the site is cleared of decaying industrial buildings, she said. Without the cleanup, the value drops to about $4 million, she said.

The aim is to recoup as much as possible of the $17.9 million in local taxes that have gone unpaid since 1993 by Lawrence Aviation and its owner, Gerald Cohen, Lansdale said.

Cohen served a year and one day in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2008 to charges that the company had stored hazardous waste at the site. In 2019, a federal judge ordered Cohen and the company to pay $48.1 million to cover federal cleanup costs.

"As important as recouping funds [is], equally important is redeveloping the property in a way that’s responsible and reflective of the community’s desires and needs," Lansdale said.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said no development should occur until the decaying structures are removed. "First and foremost, before you make all your grandiose plans, take down these unsafe structures," Romaine told Newsday.

Officials say most of the federal cleanup has been completed. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has removed more than 16,000 tons of PCB-laden soil that contributed to a mile-long toxic plume running north from the site to Port Jefferson Harbor.

Brookhaven Town zoning limits the property to light industrial uses such as storage and manufacturing. Some officials said they would consider a solar array that would generate electricity for the area.

Officials hope to convince the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to acquire 42 acres to expand a nearby rail yard and move the Port Jefferson train station west from its site just east of state Route 112. The move would give MTA the necessary space for infrastructure needed to electrify the LIRR's northern branch, officials said.

Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the land could be transferred to the MTA at no cost to the agency.

In a statement, MTA spokesman Dave Steckel said the authority is "always looking towards the future and opportunities to improve service, and the need for additional yard capacity for the Port Jefferson branch has been something we have been exploring."

Salvatore Pitti, president of the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Civic Association, said residents are encouraged that officials are taking steps to clean up and find new uses for the site, adding that they would support a new train station and open space preservation.

"We don’t have control over the outcome, but right now it’s going in the right direction," Pitti said. "The fact that this is moving forward is a positive because that thing's been sitting there as blight for years."

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