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Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station approved for light industrial development

The Brookhaven Town Board approved a land use plan for the contaminated Lawrence Aviation Industries site in Port Jefferson Station, over the objections of Supervisor Edward P. Romaine.

The plan, approved 6-0 on Tuesday with Romaine abstaining, calls for rezoning residential parcels to allow only light industrial uses such as manufacturing, storage facilities and offices on the 126-acre property. Town officials have said the plan is intended to restrict or prevent development at the federal Superfund site, where authorities have said tons of sludge and hazardous waste were dumped before the aircraft parts manufacturer closed in 2003.

A moratorium barring development of the Lawrence site expires on Jan. 18, but new construction will effectively be barred by a $27.3 million federal cleanup expected to be completed in 2036.

Romaine said last week that he has asked county officials to consider foreclosing on about $12 million in unpaid taxes related to the Lawrence site and preserving it as open space. County officials have said they are reviewing the request.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, who represents Port Jefferson Station, said at Tuesday's meeting that the county is prevented from taking the property because of "incredibly complex" legal issues, including a federal lawsuit to recover $25 million in cleanup costs from Lawrence Aviation owner Gerald Cohen.

The land use plan will ensure that development at the site is restricted until the county is free to consider taking control of the property, Cartright said.

"The town has no authority to come and declare open space on property that is owned by another person, Cartright said. "If the county does not foreclose, we need to have safeguards in place."

Romaine lauded a citizens advisory committee that helped craft the land use plan, but said he would abstain from the vote because he wants the county to take the property.

"This land use plan, while well-intended . . . is not the only option that we can go with," Romaine said. "I believe the land should heal itself. We do not need more environmental damage."

Cohen, 81, of St. James, last week pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Central Islip to charges he illegally removed asbestos from the site. He previously had served a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to illegally storing hazardous waste on the property.

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