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Romaine: Yaphank lakes project 'horribly off track'

Brookhaven Councilwoman Connie Kepert, stands at the edge

Brookhaven Councilwoman Connie Kepert, stands at the edge of the Lower Yaphank Lake on March 26, 2013, holding a piece of cabomba, a nonnative invasive weed that is to be dredged out of this lake and Upper Yaphank Lake. Credit: Heather Walsh

A plan to dredge Upper and Lower Yaphank lakes is in jeopardy after engineers told officials from the Brookhaven Rail Terminal, which was to store the dredged plants, that the amount of material will be nearly double the original estimate. That, terminal officials say, would exceed the available storage space.

"This is a project that went horribly off track," town supervisor Edward P. Romaine said at a town board work session Thursday. "It didn't have the oversight it should have."

The project, sponsored by Councilwoman Connie Kepert, was to dredge the lakes of two invasive plant species growing uncontrollably -- cabomba and variable-leaf watermilfoil. The estimated amount of material is now 75,000 to 100,000 cubic yards; the original estimate was 60,000 cubic yards.

Romaine, a Republican, criticized Kepert's office for prematurely issuing a bid for the project before the town board and the terminal had seen it. Kepert, a Democrat, said a staff member sent out the bid and that it was a mistake.

The changes to the project also mean a previously approved $3.7 million bond to pay for it will need to be amended, said town waste management commissioner Matt Miner. Transporting the extra material will put "significant stress" on waste management's resources, he added.

Originally, the rail terminal was to store the dredged plants at its site in Yaphank at no cost, and the town planned to use the dried plants as landfill cover, making $1.5 million in tipping fees in the process.

The terminal has proposed an alternative plan to process and use the dredged plants in its own construction, at an estimated cost of $2 million to the town. Brookhaven also would lose out on the $1.5 million in landfill fees because the dredged plants would not go to the landfill.

Supporters of the town project said they were displeased at the terminal's new price tag on its services. "It's unfortunate that they have come out at the end to put up roadblocks," Kepert said.

"They presented this as a community benefit, not a profit-making venture," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment advocacy group, which consulted with Kepert on the project.

Terminal spokeswoman Judy White said the company is cooperating despite the town's inaccurate estimates. "We were trying to give the town an option. We don't have any of this stuff in our budget," White said. "We were literally saying to Matt [Miner], 'If this is a real problem, as we're standing here on our feet this is what we could do.' "

Miner said given the unresolved issues, the project might not happen this year; the plants grow the most between June and October.

Romaine gave Kepert a week to decide how to proceed. "We're either going to have to find another site, or we were talking about segmenting it" into multiple projects, she said.

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