The shuttered Lawrence Aviation Industries on Sheep Pasture Road in...

The shuttered Lawrence Aviation Industries on Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson Station seen in April 2014. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Federal prosecutors have approved a settlement that will make most of a Port Jefferson Station Superfund site available for redevelopment — ending years of legal limbo for the troubled property. 

The settlement announced Monday ends litigation stemming from environmental hazards, unpaid taxes and other problems at Lawrence Aviation Industries, a shuttered aircraft parts factory on Sheep Pasture Road. The company and its owner, Gerald Cohen, were ordered in 2019 to pay $48.1 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cover the cost of removing more than 16,000 tons of contaminated soil from the site.

The property has been in limbo since 2020, when Cohen died, leaving about $17.9 million in unpaid property taxes in addition to the millions he owed the EPA, officials said.

Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for New York's Eastern District, said the settlement paves the way for a subsidiary of the Suffolk County Landbank, a nonprofit arm of the county, to sell about two-thirds of the 126-acre property. Proceeds are expected to help pay Cohen's debts, officials have said.

Officials have said they hope to sell 42 acres to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for a possible Long Island Rail Road yard.

“This settlement will enable a previously contaminated property to be put to uses that will benefit Port Jefferson and the greater Suffolk County community,” Peace said in a statement. “In the process, the EPA will recover at least some of the enormous costs expended in remediating the LAI Superfund Site and protecting our environment from hazardous substances.”

MTA spokesman David Steckel said Monday there was "nothing new" concerning the agency's possible purchase of the site.

Lawrence Aviation was declared a Superfund site in 2000 with the discovery of trichloroethene, or TCE, a solvent used to remove paint and grease. Inspectors also found acid waste, oils, sludge, metals and other toxic debris at the site. The company closed in 2003.

The EPA in recent years transferred oversight of the aviation property to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which monitors groundwater for possible contaminants.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale, said a railroad depot would be "a suitable use of a remediated property” once contaminants are removed from the site, noting that passengers typically spend little time at rail stations while waiting for a train.

“So the MTA buying the site to use it as a train station makes sense," she said. “After the remediation is complete, then a train station is a reasonable use of the site."

Suffolk Economic Development and Planning Commissioner Sarah Lansdale said the end of litigation is a "historic milestone." She said the land bank plans to demolish buildings on the site and develop plans for a 42-acre solar array, in addition to the MTA sale. Another 42 acres will be preserved as open space, officials have said.

The property would be valued at between $15.6 million and $19.2 million if the site is cleared of deteriorating industrial buildings, Lansdale has said.

County officials said last week the east end of the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway hiking-biking trail may have to be shifted to the south to make room for the MTA plan if it comes to fruition.

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