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Should the old Shoreham nuclear plant become a deep water port?

01/15/2016 6:00 AM |

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The old nuclear plant in Shoreham sits largely idle today, a metallic giant rising up above the surrounding marshland where little sound is audible beyond the wind howling off the Long Island Sound.

The plant was a source of contention more than two decades ago. Local residents vocally opposed its establishment, many driven by concerns that Long Island’s infamous congestion would make emergency evacuations at the site virtually impossible. The plant — which cost nearly $6 billion to build — never reached full operation, and in 1992, formal decommission of the facility began.

Now plans for the plant are stirring up opposition again: Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to study the feasibility of a deepwater port at the property, and some local residents and politicians, concerned about the cost and traffic, say they want no such thing.

“I’m kind of boggled by the whole proposal,” said Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association. “To say that particular location represents a good spot for a deepwater port — you have to wonder what folks in Albany have been smoking.”

In his State of the State address and budget proposal Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo proposed spending $1 million to study the idea of opening a deepwater port at the now-defunct plant as part of a revitalization package for Long Island infrastructure. If a deepwater port is deemed viable and eventually installed, the governor believes it will reduce traffic on Long Island roads.

Mr. Cuomo first mentioned the idea last Tuesday in a speech at the Long Island Association, although he only briefly mentioned the Shoreham proposal.

“[The deepwater port] would also be a way to get goods onto Long Island and off of Long Island without having to go through the city,” he said in that speech.

At this point, it’s unclear when the study would begin, how much it would cost to open a deepwater port or what goods would be shipped through it. The governor’s press office did not respond to multiple inquiries for comment.

The idea is in its preliminary stages. Before the study can commence, the state senate and assembly have to agree on a budget with Gov. Cuomo that includes the proposed $1 million of funding. Even then, the study may find the area cannot or should not support a port.

Both state representatives for the area, state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), have already said they oppose the plan to even study the concept. Neither had heard about the idea to conduct a study until the governor’s public speech at the Long Island Association last Tuesday.

“I don’t know where there’s support or where this came from,” Mr. LaValle said. “I’ve not had a dialogue with the governor, and I don’t know of any constituency that has come to me and said, ‘Senator, this is a wonderful thing for x, y, and z reasons.’”

Mr. LaValle said the area would require substantial — and costly — dredging before a port could open. Both he and Mr. Palumbo said that despite the governor’s claim that the port would reduce traffic, they are concerned about an influx of large trucks into the quiet area.

“All you have to do is know Shoreham and North Country Road,” Mr. LaValle said. “Even if you built a bridge over North Country Road, you would still have spillover traffic onto North Country Road, which is a very, very narrow and winding country road.”

Although he plans to keep “an open mind” about the governor’s proposal for a study, Mr. Palumbo equated the potential port to a failed proposal last spring to send freight trucks from Connecticut to Orient via the Cross Sound Ferry.

“I don’t think we have the infrastructure that can handle the traffic that would be the result of such a port,” Mr. Palumbo said. “The character of the community is not conducive to a deepwater port and all of the associated traffic as a result.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said there is one key aspect of the Shoreham power plant that likely attracted the governor’s eye: It has a limited-access highway running from the property down to Route 25A, which is then less than a mile from William Floyd Parkway.

That limited-access road could be expanded to accommodate more trucks without disrupting the surrounding neighborhoods, Mr. Romaine said. However, because Shoreham has no natural harbor, the supervisor does not believe a deepwater port is a good idea because constructing an artificial harbor would run up large costs.

“There’s no natural inlet there, and the inlet that was built for the Shoreham nuclear power plant is far too short,” he said. “To [build a harbor] would take a great deal of money.”

Residents are concerned with the project’s potential costs as well. Mr. Bail praised many of Gov. Cuomo’s other proposals, including a plan to increase sewering in Suffolk County and expand the Long Island Rail Road’s main line. However, he felt the $1 million proposed for a study could be better spent elsewhere, especially since any potential port would require much more financial investment.

“I’m not against putting the site to some good use, but this one seems really far-fetched,” he said. “It isn’t so much ‘NIMBY’ opposition that would kill this proposal. It would be the sheer economic cost.”

This is the first time a deepwater port has been proposed for the site of the ill-fated power plant, but the location has a five-decade history of controversy.

The power plant was first proposed in 1966 by Long Island Lighting Co., the predecessor to Long Island Power Authority. Over the next 20-plus years, officials and residents went back and forth, with the former claiming a nuclear plant would be a boon to a thirsty Long Island power grid and the latter fearful thanks to the stigma associated with nuclear energy and the problems with off-island escape routes.

The plant was given a full operating license by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1989 — after years of back-and-forth on whether local approval was required — before LILCO, bleeding money on what was at the time the most expensive power plant in the world, decided later that year to reach a settlement and prevent the plant from operating.

In the years since, part of the property has served as a small peak power station, used sparingly as a backup during high-energy times of the year.

Today, LIPA still owns the land on which the plant lies, while National Grid owns some 800 acres of woods around that.

The plant sits across Wading River Creek from a string of waterfront houses, and some residents in that area expressed concerns about the latest proposed use for the property — especially after so many different ideas have been opposed.

“It’s been crazy,” said Peggy LoScalzo, a Creek Road resident who first fought the nuclear plant during the 1980s. “Every year it’s another fight for something.”

Doris Zinna, another three-decade-long Creek Road resident, said she was worried a port would affect her home’s value as she attempts to sell it.

When nuclear power was still a possibility for the plant, protests were common. Some even staged sit-ins and hunger strikes on the beaches near the property. The coming months will reveal just how strong this iteration of opposition is.

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