Last year, Winters Bros. closed on over 200 acres of land neighboring the current Brookhaven Town landfill in Yaphank just south of Horseblock Road. The purchase of the property, according to Will Flower, senior vice president, will allow Brookhaven Rail, which will eventually operate under Shamrock Rail, to create a rail terminal facility to haul out the area’s garbage.
Brookhaven Rail is a short-line railroad that is licensed by the federal Surface Transportation Board and currently provides common carrier rail services to distribution operations in Brookhaven. The membership interests of the railroad were acquired by Shamrock Rail, a Winters Bros. affiliate, in May of 2020.
Current waste management is collected from homes and business unloaded at a waste transfer station at the town’s landfill, then loaded on to trucks and hauled to Hempstead, where it is burned in an incinerator; then the ash is returned to the landfill for disposal. With the Winters Bros. plan, should a future RFP be awarded or through the collection of private and commercial waste, the new service will collect waste from homes and businesses, load the waste inside the proposed rail-transfer facility and load it onto rail cars to be transported of Long Island for proper disposal.
The Town of Brookhaven approved the site for rail supported general development on the site in the L1 industrial zone. The town has also been in ongoing litigation to allow continued oversight over the parcel and others in the area adjacent to the rail.
A settlement was made in 2016 with the understanding that a certain amount of space would be saved as green. In 2021, the town recommended the elimination of a previously planned tunnel underpass, which would displace sand, but rather the requested conserved land be slightly reconfigured to allow the rail to operate solely above ground.
The overall project, according to Flower, is still in the development phase. According to Brookhaven Town, no application has been submitted for the solid-waste rail-transfer facility. When an application is submitted, Flower said, it would be announced. The project is expected to take several years to complete with expected ground breaking in 2022.
WHY IS THE PROJECT NEEDED?
According to Flower, the closure of the Brookhaven Town Landfill is the driving factor for the project. There is a solid-waste disposal crisis on Long Island, which will worsen with the planned closure of the Brookhaven Landfill in 2024, he said.
The Brookhaven Landfill currently accepts about 1,000,000 tons per year of construction waste, automobile fluff from metal shredders, and ash from incinerators.
This waste will need to go somewhere, he explained, and the rail-transfer station will allow the material to be processed and then transported by rail to distant landfills for proper disposal.
He also noted that rail movement of waste is not new. New York City has been using rail to export waste since the mid 1990’s.
What will be at the solid-waste rail-transfer facility?
The proposal is for a rail served transfer station to be built in Yaphank. The transfer station will result in a consolidation of five solid waste operations into a single location. Operations in Bohemia, Holtsville, Medford, Yaphank and Quogue will be consolidated.
The rail transfer station will be approximately 40 acres and will include: recycling center/residential drop off center, electronic waste recycling, MSW transfer station, C&D recycling center, container repair shop, hub for trucking operations, vehicle maintenance and repair facility and scale house.
Those against the project, including the NAACP, plan to fight the Winters Bros.’ proposal, claiming the Town of Brookhaven and Winters Bros. are utilizing an obscure federal board to build a massive garbage dump without any local approvals or oversight.
NAACP filed a petition to get more information from the federal board. Their concerns are allowing the company to obtain approvals through the federal Surface Transportation Board without input from the community.
However, according to Flower, the developers have been transparent with ample opportunities for public review and input with “aggressive and comprehensive” community outreach. Early outreach, he added, included CCE, Long Island Progressive Coalition and BLARG. NAACP, he said, did not respond for a meeting.
Still, the NAACP is urging more transparency and to cease any further communication with the STB. Once the process is halted, NAACP president Hazel Dukes said in a letter addressed to Flower, the group would agree to meet.
NAACP leaders also called on Brookhaven Town supervisor Ed Romaine and the town board to make clear their position by ending the negotiations until the community is fully briefed on the project and the process for approval, to oppose the waiver of the six-month notification process and commit to requiring Winters Bros. go through the traditional local approval process it would have to go through absent the involvement of the USSTB.
The role of the surface transportation board:
Brookhaven Rail is regulated by the STB. The planned Rail Terminal will be governed by a combination of state and federal laws and a 2016 court-approved settlement agreement which occurred prior to Winters Bros. involvement of the project.
The construction of all railroad track on the site is subject to the approval and regulation of the STB, including its environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act. In addition, the siting, construction and operation of the solid waste rail transfer facility is subject to a combination of STB jurisdiction, the laws and regulations of the State of New York, and the laws and ordinances of the Town of Brookhaven. Roadway, transportation and sewer issues will be reviewed and regulated by Suffolk County.
According to the STB, Brookhaven Rail requested an exemption that was denied a in 2020. The application is now undergoing an appeal and the environmental review is halted until a decision on the appeal comes in.
WINTERS BROS. PROVIDED
Benefits of the Project:
• Traffic reduction - The project is estimated to result in over 60,000 fewer truck trips per year onto and off of Long Island.
• Creation of logistics infrastructure – As more consumers look to online shopping for their products, retailers must work to improve their supply chain distribution systems.
• Environmental – Trains are much more fuel efficient than trucks. Railroads also reduce highway truck traffic on the Long Island Expressway and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
• Job creation – Approximately 1,800 construction jobs and 1,800 permanent warehouse, and distribution center jobs will be created on Long Island.
• Landfill closure – This project creates infrastructure that will be needed when Brookhaven closes its landfill in 2024.
• Green Space – More than 25 percent of the 228 acres have been set aside as a conservation easement to preserve open space.
WINTER BROS. FACTS
• Each person on Long Island generates 4.6 pounds of waste per day.
• There are +2,800,000 people living on Long Island.
• The people of Long Island generate 13,000,000 million pounds of waste every day.
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