Trash talk: Rail may be answer to hauling debris off Long Island
The plan to build a Yaphank garbage disposal station that will move thousands of tons of trash from construction sites every day and transport it by train instead of trucks from Long Island is touted by its developer in West Babylon as an important step in partially replacing the Brookhaven garbage disposal station Town landfill.
The project, which will ask questions about the impact on air and water quality, is being prepared by officials from Long Island’s city and waste management department for the planned closure of the landfill – one of the last municipal landfills on the island – in December 2024, when this is expected to reach capacity.
The closure of the landfill, which dumps incinerated household waste from incinerators, as well as construction and demolition waste, could force incinerators, builders, and waste disposal companies to move trash hundreds of miles to landfills upstate or as far as Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Winters Bros. Waste Systems, which is in the early stages of developing plans for the transfer station on part of the wooded 228-acre Brookhaven Rail property on Horseblock Road, said the facility could be one facet of the effort that To compensate for the closure of the landfill.
The Brookhaven Town landfill will reach capacity in four years. Photo credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz
The facility would receive and process up to 2,000 tons of construction and demolition waste per day that would be transported by freight trains to landfill off Long Island. The plan requires approvals from Brookhaven and possibly a federal agency regulating freight rail projects.
Brookhaven Town is developing a separate plan to store ash after the landfill is closed.
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Will Flower, a vice president of Winters Bros., said the transfer station, with its own 23,680-foot rail spur attached to the nearby tracks on Long Island Rail Road, would also help ease traffic congestion and reduce air pollution by taking about 145 tractor units from Long Island highways every day.
“We believe we have a great solution that is more sustainable than any other solution,” said Flower. 1% of Long Island freight is carried by rail, compared to 19% in the northeastern United States. “Rail is a much more environmentally friendly way of moving goods to and from Long Island. … This is the kind of project cities need [and] Long Island needs a project that environmentalists can support. “
The Winters Bros. project is one of at least three proposals for railroad crossing stations that are pending approval. Others include a facility proposed by Gershow Recycling at Medford headquarters and a transfer station proposed by Omni Recycling in Brentwood.
Winters Bros. bought Brookhaven Rail and its Yaphank property in May. Winters Bros. plans to change the rail company’s name to Shamrock Rail to avoid confusion with a neighboring but unaffiliated company, the Brookhaven Rail Terminal.
Brookhaven City officials have taken no position for or against the Winters Bros. plan. But Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, speaking at a Long Island Association forum on solid waste issues on October 6, acknowledged that the city needs “a way forward” to dealing with trash if the landfill closes.
“We are currently driving,” he said. “But we should definitely look at rail transport.”
The closure of the landfill is expected to cause ripples across Long Island. Three of the island’s four incinerators, which incinerate approximately 65% of Long Island’s household waste, and dozens of contractors use the landfill.
Besides Brookhaven, a privately owned facility in Melville is the only major repository for construction and demolition waste.
Long Island officials are urged to act quickly to develop new solid waste facilities.
“We know the outcome,” said Patricia Del Col, market director for Melville consulting firm H2M, during the Long Island Association forum if Long Island does not prepare to close the landfill. “It’s important to look at a plan now.”
Neither way of removing trash from Long Island – trucks, rails, or barges – is perfect, said Frank Roethel, associate professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. But rail is probably the most environmentally sound, while truck trash would add to Long Island’s traffic problems, he said.
“I can’t imagine that Long Islanders really want to implement this strategy,” said Roethel.
However, Winters Bros.’s plan faces questions from civic groups and environmentalists who say it poses potential harm to drinking water and would threaten a 68-acre protection measure on part of the property.
Linda Petersen, president of the Yaphank Taxpayers and Civic Association, said many residents were unaware of Winters Bros.’s plan. Adding news about the project was “a complete shock to me” when she found out about it last summer.
She fears the facility could affect air quality in Yaphank, which is already affected by the landfill and other industrial sites such as asphalt and concrete manufacturers.
“I think by and large the Yaphank community will be shocked,” said Petersen. “The timing to get this done doesn’t seem to be beneficial to the people who will be most affected by it.”
Environmental activists say the transfer station could cause serious damage to one of the last major forest areas in Yaphank.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment, said while “the argument that rail is preferable is well deserved”, the conservation of railroad tracks “reduces their environmental value”.
Winters Bros. is due to submit its plans to Brookhaven Town after the Federal Surface Transportation Board rejected the company’s offer for expedited board approval on October 23.
Winters Bros. had requested an exemption from the city area rules. Brookhaven Officials, Environmental Agencies and State Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-East Setauket) fought against the exemption.
The federal ruling appears to ensure that the project will undergo a public hearing before officials in Brookhaven. The federal review probably would not have included public hearings.
In a statement, Brookhaven officials said the ruling was a “victory for Brookhaven City and local land control.”
Flower said in an email that Winters Bros. accepted the decision. “Winters Bros. strives to be transparent and we will take all necessary steps to make this project a reality,” he said.
Dumped on the landfill
Amount of waste deposited annually at the Brookhaven Town landfill (in tons):
387,000 construction and demolition waste
331,000 covering materials such as sand and clay
42,000 different types of waste such as street sweepers and dredged material
SOURCE: Brookhaven Town
Carl MacGowan, a Long Island native, covers Brookhaven Town after previously covering Smithtown, Suffolk County Courts, and numerous spot news and coverage of his 20+ year career on Newsday.