By Hank Russell
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine spoke at the LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action) meeting on October 21 to discuss the topic “The Future of Brookhaven.” During his presentation, he talked about the issues that he believed were very important to him and the town. That included housing, jobs, waste management and infrastructure.
LIMBA Chairman Ernie Fazio decided to invite Romaine to speak because “he is a very involved public servant. He cares about a lot of things.” The meeting, Fazio said, is about “putting people in front of other people to solve problems.”
With 44 communities in the township, Brookhaven is the largest town in the state by size, Romaine said, and the second-largest by population, with approximately 500,000 residents. The future of Brookhaven, Romaine said, “is not development, but redevelopment” of communities that were developed “40, 50 and 60 years ago.”
Among the redevelopment projects taking place include Graybar in East Patchogue, being built by The Rechler Group; a mixed-use project in Port Jefferson Station in which Stellar Construction would convert an abandoned eleven-acre shopping mall into a mixed-use space, with 300 rental units and retail establishments on the main floor; a project that The Beechwood Organization is currently working on in Mastic Beach; and the Ronkonkoma Hub, which will have 1,500 residential units near the LIRR train station when done.
Despite the progress on bringing housing to Brookhaven, Romaine said, it is difficult for young people to find a place they can afford to live. “We need to bring in workers and pay them a fair wage,” he said. “If there is going to be a future for Brookhaven and a future for Suffolk County, it’s going to depend on us being a lot more aggressive than we’ve been.”
Fazio agreed. “We don’t have the ability to build houses for people who are making under $70,000 [a year],” he said. “It’s hard for people today to [buy a house].”
One of the major issues Brookhaven and Suffolk are facing is public transportation, especially when it comes to funding. “I believe that … Suffolk County is shortchanged by the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) and other regional organizations that seem to focus less on the Island and more on the metropolitan area.”
Another problem is that the trains still run on “19th-century technology,” said Romaine. “All the trains in my town run on diesel.” He said he would take Fazio’s advice and implement a MAGLEV (magnetic levitation) transportation system. The problem, he said, goes back to the MTA. “They didn’t have the vision when they should have had the vision,” Romaine said. “Since the day I came into office, I called to electrify the rail, at least, from Ronkonkoma to East Yaphank, near [Brookhaven National Laboratory]. … We [also] need electrification on the Port Jeff line.”
Another problem with public transportation, Romaine said, is that the public bus system is not coordinated with the LIRR to take passengers to and from the station. “What limited public transportation we have, we can improve through a synergy of efforts, but that’s not happening,” he said. “You try to work with what you have and try to make it work together, rather than separately.”
In addition to transportation, he needs money for sewers in his communities, namely in Mastic Beach and Bellport. “There are a list of communities that also need [sewers] … because cesspools don’t work anymore,” he said, adding that he is trying to get sewer connections for the Staller project in Port Jefferson Station, but it has been very difficult.
One issue that was brought up was the fate of the town landfill, which is expected to close in 2024. He noted that the landfill only accepted ash and construction debris and that the landfill was only one of two locations that accepted construction debris. In addition, Brookhaven takes ash from three Covanta plants on Long Island.
Once the landfill is closed, he said, then he will have to look at other options, such as shipping construction debris off Long Island, which will mean higher costs for the town. He blamed the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for “being asleep at the switch” and failing to come up with a comprehensive plan to remove solid waste from Long Island, instead leaving it to the towns to do this themselves.
Once the landfill closes, “we’re going to lose a lot of money,” Romaine said. “We’re also not going to be able to … take ash and construction debris.” As for garbage, that will also be shipped off to other landfills in upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio because the DEC did not provide guidance for Brookhaven or the other towns. “The DEC failed in its mission,” he said.
To make up for the lost revenue, Romaine said, the town is turning the landfill into an energy park. This includes wind power that will run up the William Floyd Expressway and provide Brookhaven with $130 million over the next 25 years. The town also entered into a contract with the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) to convert the landfill into a battery and fuel cell storage facility and place solar panels around the landfill property. According to Romaine, the town should net approximately $4 million a year over the next 25 years once the deal goes through.
He concluded his presentation with a piece of advice to the audience: “We carry the future with us. Make it as you wish.”
Fazio thought Romaine’s presentation touched on a lot of pertinent issues. “He’s got his fingers on a lot of [issues] at the same time,” he said, “and I think they’re all important.”