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Federal regulator finds Smithtown rail project will have minimal impact on the environment

A map of the proposed Townline Rail Terminal project from a draft submitted by the Office of Environmental Assessment
Surface Transportation Board
A map of the proposed Townline Rail Terminal project from a draft submitted by the federal Office of Environmental Assessment.

The federal Surface Transportation Board has submitted a draft of its environmental assessment for the proposed Townline Rail Terminal project in Smithtown, New York.

The rail line would add more than 5,000 feet of common carrier rail line in Kings Park. The line would run two daily New York and Atlantic railway trains five days a week.

The developer Carlson Corp. owns an existing 66-acre waste transfer facility abutting the property. The line would be used to eliminate more than 10,000 trucks annually that is sent to the Brookhaven Landfill, hauling construction debris and waste that is burned into ash at nearby incinerators.

Long Island is facing a looming waste management crisis. The Brookhaven Landfill is the region's last remaining facility that accepts both ash waste and construction debris, but by the end of the year will stop accepting bricks, concrete and other material debris. Officials announced that the landfill plans to accept ash until it reaches capacity through 2026 when its state permit expires. The town might seek to extend its permit until early 2028.

According to Carlson Corp., the rail line connecting to the waste transfer facility will be a necessary once the landfill closes. They said that without the line, all construction debris and waste ash would eventually have to be transported off Long Island via truck. The draft environmental assessment found that direct rail transportation for the waste is the most efficient and environmentally safe option.

The agency's Office of Environmental Analysis was tasked with drafting a document to detail the potential environmental impact caused by construction of the railway. According to the draft, "OEA is responsible for conducting the environmental review process, independently analyzing environmental data, and making environmental recommendations to the board."

According to the office, the proposed rail line would have a "negligible" impact on the surrounding environmental resource areas. They also said impact to nearby biological resources, "can be appropriately minimized with the mitigation recommended in this Draft [Environmental Assessment].”

Members of the surrounding community in the Kings Park area, where the rail line will be built, have expressed concerns over its construction.

Residents and civic groups who nearby say the area is already full of heavy industry and people should not be subjected to daily freight trains. There is also concern about air pollution caused by the new rail terminal affecting nearby residents' health.

The draft found there would be no environmental justice impact — the area is not identified by the federal or state government for being a community disadvantaged from the impact of climate change or pollution. At least three other waste transfer facilities proposed and in different stages of approval and development on Long Island are in these designated places.

The Office of Environmental Analysis is open to all public comments on the draft analysis until Feb. 5 before the federal agency comes to conclusion on whether to authorize the rail line.

Bill Rodrigues is a graduate intern at WSHU.