In 2021, Winters Bros. closed on over 200 acres of land neighboring the current Brookhaven Town Landfill in Yaphank, just south of Horseblock Road. The purchase of the property, according to Will Flower, senior vice president, will allow Brookhaven Rail, which will eventually operate under Shamrock Rail, to create a rail terminal facility to haul out the area’s garbage.
Those against the project, including the Brookhaven Chapter of the NAACP, plan to fight the Winters Bros.’ proposal, claiming the Town of Brookhaven and Winters Bros. are utilizing an obscure federal board to build a massive garbage dump without any local approvals or oversight. The NAACP’s main concerns with the project include its size, questioning the true motive behind the facility, and whether or not New York City waste will be transferred through it.
According to Flower, the closure of the Brookhaven Town Landfill is the driving factor for the project. There is a solid-waste disposal crisis on Long Island, which will worsen with the planned closure of the Brookhaven Landfill in 2024, he said.
The Brookhaven Landfill currently accepts about 1,000,000 tons per year of construction waste, automobile fluff from metal shredders, and ash from incinerators. This waste will need to go somewhere, he explained, and the rail-transfer station will allow the material to be processed and then transported by rail to distant landfills for proper disposal.
However, according to a statement released by Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, NAACP Brookhaven Chapter president, the two new facilities, when fully built, will be able to handle nearly 1.3 million tons of construction and demolition waste every year—almost double the amount of similar waste now going into the landfill. The landfill will continue to take ash waste from the burning of household garbage through 2026, and neither the newly permitted facilities nor Winters Bros. is seeking to accept ash waste.
“In fact, Winters Bros. plans to consolidate four existing facilities it operates into the proposed facility—and bring about 1,000 tons they currently accept,” the NAACP released in a statement. “That leaves 5,000 tons a day that Winters Bros. would need to accept to make its plans work.”
“Why are they proposing the largest waste-transfer facility in NYS history in an area the DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] has said is a potential environmental justice area?” NAACP spokesperson Michael McKeon added. “With all that excess capacity […] Brookhaven will become the home of NYC trash.”
However, according to Flower, once the Brookhaven Landfill closes in 2024, transportation and logistical challenges will arise across Long Island.
“The size of the facility will be approximately 50 acres,” he said. “The facility will be designed to accept up to 840,000 tons of C&D waste, plus a similar volume of MSW waste. The facility is necessary because the people and business activity on Long Island generates 7,800,000 tons of waste per year (C&D and MSW).”
Flower also noted that they have always stated they will accept construction and demolition waste and municipal solid waste. Also, recyclables and commodities will be transported.
“It is highly unlikely that waste from New York City will come all the way out east to Yaphank just to be transported back west again to and through the city,” he said, responding to the concern that city trash will be hauled through the facility.
“Logistically, it makes no sense, and economically it makes no sense to move waste to Yaphank.”
Also, last year, the NAACP filed a petition to get more information from the federal board. Their concerns are that the company has been allowed to obtain approvals through the federal Surface Transportation Board without input from the community.
Brookhaven Rail is regulated by the STB. The planned rail terminal will be governed by a combination of state and federal laws and a 2016 court-approved settlement agreement, which occurred prior to Winters Bros.’ involvement of the project.
The construction of all railroad track on the site is subject to the approval and regulation of the STB, including its environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act. In addition, the siting, construction, and operation of the solid-waste rail transfer facility is subject to a combination of STB jurisdiction, the laws and regulations of the State of New York, and the laws and ordinances of the Town of Brookhaven. Roadway, transportation, and sewer issues will be reviewed and regulated by Suffolk County.
When asked why they are required to go through the STB when other local rail/trash projects like the neighboring Medford Gershow project do not, Flower said that many agencies and governmental entities will be involved in the review and permitting process.
“It is important to keep in mind that Brookhaven Rail (the developer) is a railroad, and therefore regulated by the federal government. Gershow is not a railroad, and therefore not subject to railroad regulations,” he explained, also noting that currently, there is no application pending before the federal Surface Transportation Board for a solid-waste rail transfer facility.
“If, and when, the time comes to submit an application for a facility, we will be required to present the application to the STB,” he said. “The construction of all railroad track on the site by Brookhaven Rail is subject to the approval and regulation of the STB.”
Additionally, construction and operation of the solid-waste rail transfer facility is subject to a combination of STB jurisdiction, the laws and regulations of the State of New York, and the laws and ordinances of the Town of Brookhaven. Roadway, transportation, and sewer issues will be reviewed and regulated by Suffolk County.
NAACP leaders also called on Brookhaven Town supervisor Ed Romaine and the town board to make clear their position by ending the negotiations until the community is fully briefed on the project and the process for approval, to oppose the waiver of the six-month notification process and commit to requiring Winters Bros. go through the traditional local approval process it would have to go through, absent the involvement of the USSTB.
“Why is the town board, especially the candidates for county executive and town supervisor, silent on this issue?” questioned McKeon. “Why aren’t they standing up and saying Brookhaven will never become the home of NYC trash? Why aren’t they saying we don’t need such a massive facility in our town?”
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