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Schumer to Feds: Release funding for Port Jefferson Station Superfund site

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer said the "missing piece" to the revitalization of the Port Jefferson Station superfund site was $450,000 approved in the recent federal omnibus spending package.
J.D. Allen
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer said the "missing piece" to the revitalization of the Port Jefferson Station superfund site was $450,000 approved in the recent federal omnibus spending package.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants the federal government to release $450,000 in federal funding to start the demolition of blighted buildings at the former Lawrence Aviation site on Long Island.

He also called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve Suffolk County’s plan to move forward with its revitalization efforts.

“We want all the red tape [to be] cut, cut, cut, the bulldozers dozing, the workers working and the redevelopment underway,” Schumer said during a visit Monday to the decades-old Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station.

“We need the EPA to just [remove] all the red tape so we can get the plans, like a solar farm and a rail facility here, to take shape," he added.

Lawrence Aviation located its operations on Long Island in the 1950s to build parts for fighter jets that have been in use since the Vietnam War. In 2000, the EPA listed the property in Port Jefferson Station as a Superfund site after the now-defunct company spent years dumping toxic chemicals into the ground. The company folded in 2003.

Three years ago, a federal court ordered the owner of the property to pay $48 million to clean up a one-mile toxic plume, created by the factory, under Port Jefferson Village. So far, the cleanup has removed tens of thousands of tons of contaminated soil, and could take another decade to complete.

The last piece of the puzzle is tearing down the property’s 14 industrial buildings. The site has languished over the years. The buildings’ exteriors are weathered and marked heavily with graffiti, while the insides remain rife with splintered beams and dangling wiring.

Local officials have also cautioned thousands of pedestrians who enjoy a trail that runs from Setauket to Port Jefferson behind the complex to steer clear — especially at night.

“This site's dangerous,” Schumer said. “People come in the dark of night, they go into the buildings, they take the metal and they strip the copper. This has all got to go. But now we have the money.”

The money, distributed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was included in the federal omnibus spending package approved by Congress last month. Schumer wants the federal funding to be fast-tracked to Suffolk County so remediation can begin.

“These buildings have been condemned for over 25 years," Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said. "This has been a Superfund site for almost 25 years. Finally, we will see these buildings come down."

The site has been delinquent in taxes for over 20 years. And because of state law, Suffolk County foots the bill, obligated to pay over $100,000 per year in property taxes to the town and local school district.

Romaine said the 126-acre property near Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University is poised to attract high-tech businesses, house a solar farm and help the Long Island Rail Road electrify its Huntington Branch.

The development of a five-megawatt solar farm takes up at least 25 acres and provides enough electricity to power up to 1,200 homes.

The nonprofit Suffolk County Landbank Corp. could recoup more than $17 million in unpaid back taxes by selling pieces of the property once the blighted buildings are removed. It’s estimated that about 40 acres will be preserved as open space.

The former property owner, Gerald Cohen, died in December 2020. He had served a year and one day in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2008 to charges that Lawrence Aviation illegally stored toxic wastes on site. Cohen was also charged in 2014 with illegally removing asbestos from the property.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.