Gov. Kathy Hochul has called on a federal agency to ensure Yaphank and North Bellport residents have a say in discussions of a proposed $182 million waste transfer station that would be built near the Brookhaven Town landfill.
In a Dec. 1 letter to the federal Surface Transportation Board, Hochul echoed concerns expressed by opponents of the project that public comment will be limited and that Brookhaven authorities may have no role in deciding whether the facility is approved.
Hochul did not express support for or opposition to the project, but called for a "thorough and transparent" evaluation of the plan.
"I am respectfully requesting that the project be allowed to undergo all relevant reviews at both the federal and local levels," Hochul, a Democrat, wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to Newsday. "A waste-management solution must be found in partnership with the local community and not imposed without consideration to the public and economic health of the surrounding Brookhaven communities."
West Babylon-based Winters Bros. Waste Management has proposed building the 228-acre facility off Horseblock Road in Yaphank. The facility would process up to 2,000 tons a day of debris from construction and demolition projects and ship the waste by rail to landfills as far away as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
The plan also includes 2.4 million square feet of warehouses for retail goods that would be operated by Missouri-based NorthPoint Development, whose clients include Home Depot, Ford Motor Co. and Amazon.
The plan has been dogged by accusations from opponents that the company and Brookhaven Town officials have failed to seek public input while requesting approvals from the federal agency, which regulates rail projects.
A Surface Transportation Board spokesman declined to comment on Hochul’s letter. The board last year rejected Winters Bros.’ request to expedite approval of the project.
Uses of the sprawling Yaphank site are governed by a 2016 legal settlement between the town and a previous owner of the property, Brookhaven Rail Terminal. The settlement says the property owner must seek Brookhaven environmental reviews of construction on the property.
The Surface Transportation Board is required to review rail projects at the site, the settlement said.
Winters Bros. vice president Will Flower said the waste transfer proposal will be reviewed by several state and local authorities, including the Brookhaven Town Board.
"We know that the federal process does include public participation," Flower told Newsday on Monday. "There’s a lot of people involved in this. We believe that’s a good thing. When you include everyone and talk about the project, you’re going to end up with a good project."
Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said in a statement to Newsday that it was "gratifying to see that Gov. Hochul agrees with Brookhaven’s position regarding local zoning control," but added he found it "unfortunate" that Hochul "continues to shirk ... a regional solution for waste management on Long Island."
Georgette Grier-Key of the Brookhaven NAACP, one of the groups fighting against the plan, said the governor’s letter gives her hope that residents of minority communities near the site will have a say in whether the plant gets built.
"We need fair governance and we need local control over this," she said. "This is a local environmental justice issue and we need to take that into consideration."
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said Hochul’s letter ensures greater scrutiny of the proposal and she noted that "the governor is the first elected official to ask federal officials to step up and ensure local input." Citizens Campaign has not taken a position on the project.