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New York permits Medford waste transfer station to move forward

Utility workers work among debris from flood damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida in Manville, N.J., Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021.
Craig Ruttle
Utility workers work among debris from flood damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida on Sept. 5, 2021.

A New York state permit will advance a proposed waste transfer station in Medford to haul over 1,900 tons of trash off Long Island by rail.

According to a document obtained through a freedom of information request, the state Department of Environmental Conservation will allow Peconic Environmental Services and Gershwin Recycling to receive construction and demolition debris six days a week at its Medford-based scrap metal recycling plant.

The goal of the project is to replace the Brookhaven Landfill when it stops accepting construction debris by the end of next year.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said this is a better location for one of four waste transfer stations planned for Long Island.

“Medford — I know that area well — It's already industrially zoned,” Esposito said. “So, whatever you put in that space, was going to be industrially zoned.”

She added that her environmental group supported the companies’ application because “there are no houses right around it and … it's an expansion of an existing industry.”

The permit allows for a new 37,500-square-foot facility, just south of the Long Island Rail Road. The facility would process around 800 tons of construction debris per day. Garbage trucks won’t be allowed to wait or idle on public roads. A rail spur would need to be expanded to allow for the waste to be sent off by freight train. Planned hours of operation are Monday through Saturday from 6:00 a..m. to 7:00 p.m.

However, it is anticipated that material will be loaded into railcars 24 hours per day, seven days per week, according to the state.

Katy Johnston, a member of the Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group, which calls for a regional approach to waste management, warns that the other three in Kings Park, Brentwood, and Yaphank are near residential communities. In addition, the toxic debris railed away from Long Island will likely go to landfill near another community in Ohio.

“I would infer that doubling down on toxic waste infrastructure will continue to beget more toxic infrastructure,” Johnston told the Brookhaven Town Board during its February meeting. “I would infer that the town officials choose to consolidate not only all of our garbage, but also the most polluting industries within a single community, likely one that they don't they themselves don't live in.”

Public interest

The public records request for the permit was made by residents of Fostoria, Ohio, who are fighting against the Sunny Farms Landfill in their community. Some of the garbage railed away from Long Island is destined for this facility and possibly elsewhere in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Delaware and upstate New York.

In 2021, over 30 students from Fostoria Junior Senior High School, and other residents more than 600 miles away, wrote to Brookhaven Town and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to oppose the Medford proposal because of its potential impact on their community.

The state agency responded to the comments on Feb 15. upon issuing the permit — most comments were from Ohio.

“The department takes environmental justice concerns very seriously,” according to the state. It maintains that this facility is appropriate because it is already industrially zoned and is located more than 2 miles from the nearest state-identified disadvantaged community, south of Sunrise Highway in Bellport, and more than 2,400 feet from the nearest environmental justice community — on the other side of the railroad tracks and the Long Island Expressway.

Nor does it require an enhanced environmental review process that allows for more public participation, the state said.

One comment simply stated, “Sunny Farms is unfit to accept the waste.” The state responded that it lacked the authority and is following Ohio’s regulations that have renewed the landfill’s license yearly since 2019.

Most railroad-related issues were also deflected, which the state “has no jurisdiction or authority to regulate.” Those issues are handled by the federal Surface Transportation Board. Comments ranged from ensuring odor, dust, and contaminated water will be effectively contained in the railcars, to whether the railway could handle increased freight traffic.

For facility operations, the state responded that “dust will be effectively controlled [inside the building] so that it does not constitute a nuisance.” The state also noted standard industry practice requires misting sprinklers and providing staff with filtered masks and respirators.

The release of the permit came as a surprise to Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group, as the state didn’t respond to or deny a similar request.

“It's short sighted,” Johnston said of a piecemeal plan for waste management on Long Island.” “It's unjust, and frankly, it's inhumane.”

“I would infer that the town's choice of communities in which to place these hazards, and its apparent willingness to ignore the terrible health consequences for those residents is rooted in a long history of racism on Long Island. If I were a parent in this community, I might infer that elected officials have decided to sacrifice my children's well-being — their future — to support their own lives and livelihoods,” she continued.

The Town of Brookhaven maintains it is the responsibility of the state Department of Environmental Conservation to develop a plan for “the island’s construction debris crisis,” Town Supervisor Ed Romaine told WSHU.

He said the town-run facility is still dealing with debris from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 — some waste managers even estimate debris from Hurricane Gloria in 1985 remains. Romaine said the only reason the town is allowing debris through the end of 2014 is because the pandemic curbed construction, which means space already designated for waste can still be buried.

The three other waste transfer station proposals are all vying to fill a gap.

The federal transportation board will consider extending a rail spur off the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jefferson line to help the latest proposed waste transfer station in Kings Park to move forward.

Similar to Brookhaven, Smithtown residents have submitted comments to prevent CarlsonCorp from running a 70-acre, state-licensed recycling facility on Old Northport Road.

The company, under Townline Rail Terminal LLC, plans to haul off by rail 1,500 tons of construction debris and incinerator ash. Their plan is to operate one train a day, five days a week.

“Our houses are located so close to the proposed train yard and our living conditions will quickly deteriorate if this gets passed,” resident Dominick Vernice said in his testimony. “There are many families with small children who live in this neighborhood, mine included, that play in the very backyards in which this project will border. This is unacceptable and we do not want our children breathing in this hazardous polluted air.”

Lisa Sevimli, with the Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group, said elected officials cannot continue to kick the can down the road to another community overburdened by poor waste management.

“If you're going to close it, [the landfill] has to be closed,” Sevimli told Brookhaven Town officials. “And I can tell you the people up in Kings Park, in Huntington, who are very good friends of mine, they're not happy about this. And I'm sure you're not going to want to bring them all down to one of these meetings to have people answer what we're going to do about the landfill.”

The towns of Brookhaven and Babylon, which also has a facility that accepts ash deposits, are expected to coordinate with Stony Brook University on March 15 for a Long Island Environmental Summit and launch a state-funded study of waste management.

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.