Brookhaven Town and the Brookhaven Rail Terminal appear to agree on one thing and one thing only: Long Island needs the rail terminal. And they're correct about that.
But the terminal's proposed expansion is bogged down. The town says debris sitting on the expansion site is contaminated and the expansion is really a sand-mining operation. The terminal denies both claims, and the whole mess is in federal court, where a judge is urging the parties to settle their differences.
That's the right call. The drama must stop. It's time to get hitched.
The terminal, a spur off the Long Island Rail Road's Main Line in Yaphank, is an important part of Long Island's future. Opened in 2011, the 30-acre facility on Sills Road handled 2,090 freight cars last year -- the equivalent of nearly 8,500 tractor-trailers taken off our roads.
The cars carried massive pieces of structural steel for Stony Brook University's new medical research building, along with lumber, drywall and flour. Now the terminal proposes to expand east onto 90 acres it already owns that are zoned for industrial use. So what's the problem?
In dispute is whether the terminal told the town how much bigger the project was growing. The terminal enlarged its expansion plans after one of the nation's largest food distributors said it's ready to put two large warehouses -- one refrigerated, one for dry goods -- on the site, creating hundreds of permanent jobs. Two other companies want to bring in rebar and other construction material. Not disputed: Town officials got upset on seeing how much land was being excavated, went to federal court last year and got a stop-work order.
Grading of the site is critical; railroad spurs must be sloped so cars cannot roll backward onto main lines. That requires excavation, which produces sand, a commodity with value. Making money by selling it is not illegal. The terminal must be allowed to do enough grading to accommodate the new plan, but no more than required, and it must conform to environmental regulations. Magistrate Judge Gary R. Brown asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation to check the alleged threats to groundwater and the nature of the debris on the site. The agency was there last week; we expect both parties to abide by its findings. And the Suffolk County district attorney's office must not let linger its investigation into the debris if that slows the removal of contaminated fill.
The terminal at times has been its own worst enemy, lacking in bedside manner and an appreciation for the importance of process. Now the town is catching a fever. Both sides say communication is a problem; each needs to be clearer about its goals and intentions.
Superstorm Sandy showed how quickly food and pharmaceuticals could be depleted if Long Island is cut off from the mainland. That was one reason state officials gave the terminal a $2.5-million grant in 2013 for new track for the expansion, and $3.6 million to a company for an automated food warehouse yet to be built.
The stakes are large. A bigger terminal means more tax revenue, more jobs and fewer trucks. It's time both sides work together, make whatever amends are needed and make a deal. Get this terminal rolling.