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A deepwater port could change Long Island

The site of the long-since-abandoned nuclear power plant

The site of the long-since-abandoned nuclear power plant in Shoreham would be a solid location for a deepwater port to serve both Nassau and Suffolk. Credit: KEVIN P. COUGHLIN

If you live on Long Island, you spend time in a car. And chances are, you have issues.

If you're like most of us, two of the biggest are the poor condition of our roads and the ridiculous volume of traffic -- especially truck traffic.

Those aren't just complaints. They're facts. And we've known them for years. But too often we shrug: It comes with the territory, right? That's Long Island.

Some progress has been made to get trucks off our roads. More goods arrive here by train now, and that's a good thing. But it's not enough.

We need to seriously consider a deepwater port. A place where cargo can arrive by ship. Our island is laced with marinas but where are the docks for ships brimming with the supplies we need?

We have nearly 3 million people, we bring in almost everything we need to live, and our roads and bridges and tunnels are clogged. That's because we are an island -- we don't have many ways to get on it and off it.

Even more frustrating, the bones of the port we need already exist -- the port built in Shoreham, on the north shore of Suffolk County, to assemble the long-since-abandoned nuclear power plant.

It's been sitting there, unused, for 30 years. Let's put it to work.

The first step is a feasibility study to analyze costs, obstacles and benefits. The study's price tag, an estimated $1 million, is extremely modest compared to the possible payoffs -- reduced truck traffic, less wear-and-tear on our roads, better air quality, more jobs, and improved marketability for local goods being shipped off Long Island.

A group of business, environmental and planning groups led by the Long Island Association included a deepwater port on a wish list for funding from the $5 billion-plus in bank settlement money being doled out by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature in budget negotiations. This study must be funded. We need this kind of transformative project.

And it can be done.

Land clearly exists for the facility. Hundreds of acres surrounding it are owned by LIPA and National Grid. A rail connection to the Long Island Rail Road's main line could follow an existing limited-access road down to Route 25A, and then along the east side of William Floyd Parkway, nearly all of which is public land -- Brookhaven State Park, Brookhaven National Lab and property owned by Brookhaven Town.

The track would join the main line just south of the Long Island Expressway, where County Executive Steve Bellone and other Suffolk officials want to move the underutilized Yaphank station. From there, it's a few miles west on little-used track to the Brookhaven Rail Terminal, where the cargo would be dispersed across Long Island.

The port connection also could be used for exports -- of ornamental nursery stock and sod produced by East End farms, and of solid garbage. We still haven't solved our problem of transporting waste off-Island; moving it by container to landfills in Virginia served by water transport could be a solution.

Other issues the study would address include: How many trucks would be taken off our roads? How would that affect the conditions of our highways? How much cleaner would our air be?

We need to know how many dockworker jobs would be created, how many ships would use the port, what kinds of goods they would bring, and whether those goods would be cheaper.

What would the project cost? Would a port help Long Island's manufacturers? And what about the environmental consequences for Long Island Sound?


Long Island is not alone in grappling with a trucking problem. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is considering ways to reduce truck traffic in and around the city; some involve bringing cargo from New Jersey ports to Brooklyn via barges or a tunnel under the harbor. Some of these containers would then be put on trains bound for Long Island.

Connecticut officials are dredging up an old idea -- still ludicrous -- to divert trucks from busy I-95 onto ferries in New London and bring them to Orient, where they would then grind their way through the bucolic North Fork. That's what happens when you lack alternatives.

The volume of goods coming into our region will only increase in coming years. Our problems are going to get worse. We need to get ahead of them.

Let's try something different. Let's see whether a deepwater port can change our region. Hope floats. Maybe Long Island can, too.


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