2017-02-17 / Front Page

After DEIS comment period, new concerns over proposed LIRR Third Track

BY RIKKI N. MASSAND

Concern over the Third Track project abounds after the new deadline for comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) document expired on Wednesday, February 15.

Garden City officials received a report from Vertex, consultants currently billing $108,000 to prepare questions, challenges and feedback to the 1,000-page DEIS.

The Village of Garden City is cooperating with other villages in an organized effort against the Third Track as it has been presented. That movement is represented with a local “co-hire” of consultants Vertex of Long Island City and environmental law firm Beveridge & Diamond P.C. of Manhattan, with the villages of Floral Park and New Hyde Park joining Garden City and preparing positions against the Third Track.

Mayor Nicholas Episcopia spoke with The Garden City News the morning before the deadline passed, and he says the fight now turns to facts, based on the dissection of the DEIS and numerous red flags made clear and validated by the hired consultants.

“Vertex completed their work and it has been submitted to the MTA/LIRR. Their review was done and professional comments will be public knowledge, the village will circulate it. In the February 17, 2017 Mayor’s Column I’ve included a synopsis of what Vertex said – it is BAD. They took the DEIS apart and it looks like the LIRR Third Track holds very bad things in store for everybody concerned. The proper work by the railroad to study environmental and community impacts was not done. They did no testing of the trackside soils to see if construction work would emit pollutants into the air…they did nothing like that. They didn’t tell anyone where the staging areas are and where equipment will go. We will see how LIRR/MTA replies to the issues,” the mayor explains.

Consultants’ Collaborations

On behalf of the three villages that have collaborated, the professional review angle was well-planned following the DEIS’ release two and a half months ago. Vertex coordinated with Beveridge & Diamond, as Episcopia said the firms “know each other well and they talk.” The mayor expressed his pleasure with both firms work and their communications back to the village, pointing out Mike Murphy of Beveridge & Diamond as a key individual over the past year.

The village, along with its teammates in Floral Park and New Hyde Park, received $25,000 from the Town of Hempstead last month to offset some costs going towards the consultants and legal counsel. Mayor Episcopia publicly thanked the Town of Hempstead, and he adds that the sum goes directly toward the first bills from the two firms.

“I was asking for this contribution for months and they came through. That supply was very good of the town,” Mayor Episcopia said.

At its January 12 meeting the Village Board had approved the commitment to Third Track counsel and expenditures, but not to exceed a combined cost to Garden City of $45,000 in connection with a review of the DEIS. At the same time the village formed its official Third Track Committee consisting of Trustees Stephen Makrinos, Jon A. DeMaro, Deputy Mayor Brian Daughney and Joseph DiFrancisco, the new Deputy Village Administrator and Secretary to the Board of Trustees.

When asked if there is a need for either Garden City or all three villages to continue the contracts with Vertex and Beveridge & Diamond, the mayor said it really depends on next steps.

“We need to see what the MTA/ LIRR comes back with in response to the initial review of the DEIS. They may ignore the whole public input or maybe the project will be dropped,” he said.

A grassroots group effort in Garden City and neighboring villages has drawn the support of at least 700 residents who have signed a petition against the Third Track. The mayor said at the upcoming Village Board of Trustees’ meeting on Tuesday, February 21, the Third Track will definitely be a priority for discussion and he will provide a further update then and also in his weekly Mayor’s Columns.

Pushback at January’s Public Sessions

When the last round of LIRR Third Track public sessions, held at the Inn at New Hyde Park on Thursday, January 19 began, a senior gentleman in a blue windbreaker rushed out of the building and quickly crossed the street. On the way back to his car, he shouted expletives about the way in which the Third Track in his home neighborhood will “ruin his entire life.”

Minutes later a couple emerged from the Inn at New Hyde Park and they spoke with the News about the impact of the Village of New Hyde Park, where they’ve lived for the past 16 years, seeing massive increases in traffic and losses of commercial ratable tax from several businesses lining the north side of the existing tracks. They say their street, Tulip Avenue, is doomed for a traffic nightmare. Also the “Kiss and Ride” plans for the area closest to Garden City’s western section is not at all to their liking, as they said the LIRR should not expand its nearby stations in that fashion.

Inside the January 19 town hallstyle forum were Garden City residents Anthony and Eileen Healy of Greenridge Avenue. They attended to hear the latest information from the LIRR and MTA officials, but they feel at this point in the process with the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) published all they can do is focus on advising the proper height of a sound retaining wall, initially proposed for only between four and eight feet high, to railroad officials.

Other locals were vocal to the MTA and LIRR. Tom Gannon, the Superintendent of Public Works for the Village of New Hyde Park, spoke on January 19 and presented issues that the Third Track would create for the municipal facilities currently in use and possible negative impacts to their Public Works’ operations during snowstorms, hurricanes and the like.

Kurt G. Langjahr is a retired carpenter and a 50-year resident of the Village of New Hyde Park and an active member of TVASNAC, the Town-Village Aircraft Safety and Noise Abatement Committee, where he meets former Garden City Trustee and current Environmental Advisory Board member Laurence Quinn. Langjahr was also a local school board member for 20 years. His profession led him to a new evaluation of the Third Track’s proposed design and contributing a thought that echoes perspective relayed by Greenridge Avenue resident Harry Chohan, who has pressed to create a neighborhood “Quiet Zone” designation in the northwest corner of Garden City.

At the January 19 public comment meeting, Langjahr didn’t go into the Federal Railroad Administration’s documentation of a procedure to sanction official recognition of a Quiet Zone. But his words support the efforts of Chohan and his neighbors, who called for the Village of Garden City, its Board of Trustees and Environmental Advisory Board to seek approval of the FRA guidelines for their trackside part of west Garden City. While those efforts trying to prompt local government to a meaningful action are not a lost cause, Langjahr says the pressing need is for the LIRR to ensure some betterment of the communities here, sitting in the middle of this scrutinized, controversial project.

“Living here so long, eliminating noise is my objective. They cannot do that the way they’re designing this project. In Roslyn where the LIRR built the bridge, that’s a very nice job but they had much more space there. There was more width and space to do the job. It’s really irrelevant to consider until they (LIRR) gets things done and to do it safely for the community, and make the community better. What they are doing with adding the Third Track won’t improve anything for our community. This will add more noise and not solve any problems with traffic or grade crossings,” he said.

Targeting Control of Properties, Taxes, Noise Levels

Prior to 1981 he worked on the New York subway’s project of an underground tunnel crossing the East River, where the F train leaves Queens and Roosevelt Island before it reaches the 63rd Street station in Manhattan. Langjahr says next to Garden City and New Hyde Park is a better example of the engineering for an expanded track than what is being proposed with the DEIS’ info and Third Track project.

“If they tunneled it the local property values would go up sky-high because this would be a quiet neighborhood. We have had groups studying of the quiet zone due to overhead helicopters and planes (with TVASNAC). The kiss and ride aspect is a nice objective but in New Hyde Park we do not need that – where would it be? We need that storage (commercial) area and other facilities that brings up tax revenues for the village. That is an enormous commercial contribution to our village and it keeps our taxes down,” Langjahr explained.

At the Garden City Village Board of Trustees’ meeting on February 2 Mayor Nicholas Episcopia raised his concerns over the similar aspect of properties in question just south of the railroad – designated Village of Garden City parcels – being taken either entirely or only during Third Track construction, as the DEIS outlines.

“The DEIS which came out in the end of November, three pieces of property would be taken by imminent domain. They are properties south of the New Hyde Park railroad station, and the LIRR/MTA says the properties are needed in order to do the grade crossings. A letter was issued by Joseph Brown, regional director of the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT). We received it the first week of January. This letter said if the LIRR so chooses they will take property either on a temporary or permanent basis, depending on what they feel the need is for the property and they will do it either by a memorandum of understanding or by imminent domain. This led people to believe they aren’t finished with the proposals to take property around New Hyde Park Road,” the mayor said at the meeting.

From that point last month, Beveridge & Diamond and Village Attorney Peter Bee drafted a letter asking the state DOT about that issue and making it clear that the Village of Garden City will not abandon any of its rights to challenge the proposal. As of February 2 the village did not have a reply from Brown’s office on that letter.

State Funding Oversight?

Another major concern Mayor Episcopia has pointed out is a lack of concrete funding for the Third Track as it was laid out from Albany. The New York State budget for 2017 does not include anything specifically for the project, and Mayor Episcopia is questioning whether Governor Cuomo will apply for federal funding for the Third Track.

“I was in contact with Assemblyman Ra and our State Senator Kemp Hannon and as of February 1 the governor had not made requests to move any funds out of the capital budget for the $2 billion involved for the project. They are of the opinion that Governor Cuomo can’t move the use of those funds unless the Capital Plan Approval Board approves it,” Episcopia detailed on February 2 at the Village Board’s meeting.

If federal funds are sought the Third Track project will need to include an environmental study beyond the eventual EIS’ measures because it would need to adhere to federal standards. “I’m told that is much more stringent than state standards,” the mayor said.

With the concentrated efforts Garden City has made to date as local leaders spoke up, and continuing with consultants comments detailed prior to February 15, clearly the village is holding standards for the MTA/LIRR to meet and address. The village will not sit back quietly, even if the trackside part of it should already be a designated Quiet Zone.

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