Letter to James Dermody – Long Island Rail Road

December 29, 2003 James J. Dermody, President
Long Island Rail Road
Jamaica Station, Mail Code 0536
Jamaica, New York 11435 Dear Mr. Dermody: With respect to the siting of a 16-track electric train storage yard within the 7th Assembly District, I believe that each of the four proposed sites in Smithtown should be deemed "fatally flawed" based upon the criteria identified in the Scoping Document criteria which has already resulted in the elimination of thirteen of nineteen preliminary sites. These sites-identified as Sites 11, 12, 13, and 16 in the Scoping Document-represent a threat to the quality of life in the Township of Smithtown if the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) is allowed to site a 16-track storage yard within the township for reasons including: "land use, zoning and public policy, community character, and social conditions," "transportation," "natural resources," "air quality," and "hazardous materials." While I believe it is important to the Long Island economy to improve mass transit, including the LIRR, I am opposed to each of the four potential sites in Smithtown, three of which are in the hamlet of Kings Park. I spoke against these potential sites at public hearings held at Kings Park High School and at Smithtown High School in November. Beyond these necessary public hearings, I appreciate the efforts the MTA and LIRR have taken to meet the stringent National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements and to work with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) during this process. Given the potential impact on our local communities, it is imperative that a straightforward and comprehensive process inform our residents and take into account their concerns. As I noted in my public testimony, however, the entire Township of Smithtown lies within my Assembly District. Thus far, no elected official or a single resident has contacted me or my office in favor of a storage yard in my district. Quite the contrary, residents and local organizations have been vocal in their opposition. As their representative, and based upon the information presented, I strongly urge that the LIRR seek alternative sites as it works to electrify the entire Huntington/Port Jefferson Branch in accord with the LIRR’s long-range plans. Allow me to reiterate two essential questions from my public testimony. At the risk of oversimplifying the matter, I ask again: First, is there truly a need for a storage yard along the Port Jefferson Branch? Second, if the need exists, where is the most appropriate site? The goal of a modern transportation infrastructure is important both to support Long Island’s economy and to reduce pollution by getting people out of their cars. Thus, I’m sure we agree that modernization of the LIRR is a vital part of meeting our future needs. Further, I appreciate your sending me information from the Final Environmental Impact Statement relating to the East Side Access Project. While laudable, and undoubtedly important to long-term regional transportation goals, it is not clear that such a massive project should entail halfway measures along the Port Jefferson Branch. It seems to me that full electrification of the branch would be important for long-term economic and operational efficiencies. Consequently, the MTA/LIRR must look beyond the Huntington/Smithtown corridor for rail storage capacity. The real growth is to the east. I believe we should look as far to the future as we can, and push forward to electrifying the entire length of the Port Jefferson Branch. Even the LIRR’s long-term goal is electrification, so we should not be looking to do things halfway. That is still another reason why it does not makes sense to inappropriately place a storage yard halfway along the Port Jefferson Branch, a line still requiring diesel trains to reach the final station of that line! I have pledged to my constituents that I will fight against placement of the yard in the Town of Smithtown. I pledge to the MTA and the LIRR that I will work wholeheartedly on the state level, and together with officials at all levels, to fight for the necessary funding to complete the electrification of the Port Jefferson Branch – and to finding an appropriate site beyond Smithtown. As the Scoping document notes: "From an operational perspective, storage space for electric trains should be provided east of the terminus of electric service on the Huntington/Port Jefferson Branch." Further noting the operational logic-avoiding congestion, preventing reverse direction travel, and increasing operational flexibility-it follows that full electrification of the branch and placement of a storage yard at, or east of, the branch terminus would provide the maximum operational benefits. In any case, each of the four specific sites in Smithtown should be eliminated from consideration. I believe that the screening process, which was said to have eliminated those sites with "obvious fatal flaws," should have also eliminated sites 11, 12, 13, and 16 for similar reasons. Each of these four Smithtown sites could have been deemed fatally flawed by virtue of criteria related to "constructability issues," "use," or "protected natural area." To summarize select specific objections, allow me to list the sites in reverse order. Site 16 The idea of siting a yard so close to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, our town’s only hospital, is virtually unthinkable. Even the Scoping Document notes problems related to contructability due to slopes as well as the relocating an existing hospital building. More important are the potential health concerns. For example, an engineering report from the Medical Center notes that the proposed storage yard is within only a few hundred feet from the fresh air intakes for the Operating Rooms. Further, the report details concerns due to delicate and vibration sensitive surgical equipment and procedures, including eye surgery, as well as concerns for fire hazards and the water supply. The proposed site also virtually eliminates the only remaining land available for future hospital expansion. Site 13 Siting a yard at the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center (KPPC), necessitating a traffic-stopping, at-grade crossing over Route 25A, a major vehicular artery, is similarly hard to imagine. The LIRR has taken great pains to remove at-grade crossings elsewhere in the system. The debilitating effects upon traffic and local businesses are of equally great concern. While noting the crossing issue, the Scoping Document neglects to note the proximity to local schools, including Kings Park High School, as well as the Kings Park Fire Department, and other centrally located institutions. The Kings Park School District has rightly noted the recent effects of traffic congestion and its costs in terms of time and money for students and school operations. The imminent redevelopment of the KPPC is of critical importance to the vitality of the hamlet. Kings Park is furthered burdened (some of my constituents would say ‘targeted’) with two other potential sites. Site 12 Significant grading issues are already acknowledged. The acquisition of residential property would be required. Of particular note, this site would require replacing existing industrial uses, thereby negating the positive tax revenue generated. The loss of revenue to an already - burdened Kings Park hamlet would be devastating. Site 11 As with Site 12, similar issues of constructability and use are problematic, including are potential grading concerns. This site would also require replacing existing industrial uses, with the attendant loss of tax revenue. Given the residential nature of the entire Township of Smithtown, each of the four sites has the potential to impose grave effects upon residents and local businesses. The configuration of major roadways, in particular the manner in which Routes 25 and 25A become one through the heart of Smithtown (due to the Nissequogue River), means a limit to potential traffic-mitigation measures. The river also figures prominently in our concerns regarding potential pollution of this precious waterway, our underground aquifer, and our Township’s scenic and historic character. Again, I note my pledge to work with you and your agency to gain the necessary funding to improve our transportation system by full electrification of our branch and to prevent the negative effects that a train yard, inappropriately sited in our town, would have upon our community. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely,
Michael J. Fitzpatrick