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Brookhaven Town to vote on the future of Lawrence Aviation site in Port Jefferson Station

A dump truck enters the gate of the

A dump truck enters the gate of the former Lawrence Aviation site on Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson Station on Tuesday morning, May 13, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The Brookhaven Town Board plans to vote Tuesday on a plan that could dictate the future of a federal Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station whose owner was charged last week with violating environmental protection laws.

Town officials said they hope the 48-page plan will help restrict or prevent development at the site, where authorities believe tons of sludge and chemical waste were dumped before Lawrence Aviation Industries closed in 2003.

A town moratorium on building at the 126-acre property expires next month, although no construction there will be possible until a $27.3 million federal cleanup is completed, expected in about 2036.

The shuttered airplane parts manufacturer's owner, Gerald Cohen, 81, of St. James, pleaded not guilty last week in U.S. District Court in Central Islip to charges that he illegally removed asbestos from buildings on the property. He was released on $250,000 bail.

Cohen previously had served about a year in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2008 to illegally storing hazardous wastes at the site.

Brookhaven's proposed land use plan calls for eliminating residential zoning on the property and replacing it with light industrial uses such as factories, offices and storage facilities. Some residents have opposed the zoning change, saying light industry would generate truck traffic through residential neighborhoods. The plan also calls for developing green energy projects such as solar panel farms at the site.

Ed Garboski, who served on a citizens advisory committee that helped draft the plan, said light industry would be "more acceptable than residential," adding he would support solar panels at the site. "That would be the safest thing, and you're going to produce energy, good clean energy, by using the sun," he said.

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said he plans to abstain from voting on the land use plan because it does not go far enough to block future development.

"When we put that zoning in place, someone will come in and develop it, sooner or later," Romaine said in an interview. "Most of this property is already wild [and] . . . undeveloped. Leave it that way."

Romaine said he has asked Suffolk County officials to consider foreclosing on tax liens on the property and preserving the site as open space.

County officials said Cohen owes $12 million in back taxes on the property.

Suffolk spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said Romaine's request was "under review," adding that the county pays $647,000 per year to compensate Comsewogue School District and other taxing districts for lost tax revenue from the Lawrence property.

She said the county cannot seize the property because of a federal lawsuit that seeks to recover $25 million in cleanup costs from Cohen.

"Because of the problems associated with the property, it's not easy to . . . [take] the property and release it for open space," Baird-Streeter said.

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