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Two positive steps for Ronkonkoma Hub

Town Supervisors Mark Lesko of Brookhaven, left, and

Town Supervisors Mark Lesko of Brookhaven, left, and Tom Croci of Islip speak to the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge to seek backing for bonds to build a sewer plant at the Ronkonkoma Hub (June 5, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Building a new downtown as transformational as the Ronkonkoma Hub -- with its dizzying series of deadlines, moving parts and possible roadblocks -- is no easy chore. But yesterday, two major items on the long to-do list actually got done. Many hurdles remain, but this one day's work marks a big, welcome step forward.

In the morning, the Suffolk County Legislature heard presentations from the two supervisors whose towns share a border at the hub: Mark Lesko of Brookhaven and Tom Croci of Islip. What both wanted was the inclusion of $21 million in the county's capital budget for 2013 to build a sewage treatment plant that is a pivotal element in the plan. Later, the legislature approved it -- apparently reassured that the county won't be on the hook to pay off the bonds. That burden will fall on those who'll use the new sewer district.

From Hauppauge, Croci returned to Islip Town Hall, where the town board then voted to give him authority to negotiate with Tritec Real Estate to be the master developer for Islip's part of the hub, south of the Long Island Railroad tracks. Brookhaven has already selected Tritec. The town and the developer are just weeks away from signing a key document, the master development designation agreement, for the 50 acres north of the tracks. Tritec plans to build a mix of residential, retail and office space, to transform the station area into a real downtown.

It makes excellent sense for Islip to deal with Tritec. The town has been well represented in Brookhaven's planning for the hub's design, and it's encouraging that the supervisors are working well together.

What makes the hub such a big deal is the location of the station, the busiest in Nassau-Suffolk, just north of Islip's Long Island MacArthur Airport. That makes it an unusually powerful example of transit-oriented development, a land-use strategy central to Long Island's future.

Sewage treatment is critical, as it is for all dense downtown development. The new plant would start with a capacity of 500,000 gallons a day, expandable to 1.5 million gallons. The plant would handle waste from the new construction on the Brookhaven side, from any new development at the airport -- and from the airport itself and surrounding industrial users, replacing the septic systems they now use.

Tritec made clear that, before it could borrow money to build the project, the funding for actual construction of the plant had to be in place. The Long Island Regional Economic Development Council won $4 million for design of the plant through Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's statewide competition. Now, the process is in place for the county to sell the bonds to build the plant.

But there's still plenty in play. Croci is trying to get funding for a convenient people-mover system between the airport passenger terminal and the train station. That would help the town's efforts to attract more airlines. Another issue: Development on the Islip side would be stunted if the county can't shift a planned array of solar panels, set to be built in the county-owned parking lot south of the tracks, to another location.

A project of this size isn't easy. There will probably be some hand-wringing ahead. But on Long Island, where building big projects is so frustrating, this is one that's actually moving forward.

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