State gives OK for trains to haul garbage off L.I.

State officials hope the truck/rail operation will reduce the potential for residential trash not being picked up. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
State officials hope the truck/rail operation will reduce the risk that residential or commercial garbage would go uncollected this summer. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

State officials have green-lighted the temporary use of trains to help haul away garbage that’s been piling up in Southold and in other towns on eastern Long Island, authorities announced Thursday.

“Due to a shortage of available trucking resources, Long Island transfer stations have been unable to keep up with the volume of garbage during this peak season for waste generation,” DEC commisioner Joe Martens said in a statement.

The 30-day emergency authorization will allow for the loading of wrapped bales of solid waste onto rail cars headed for licensed disposal facilities, and is designed to “reduce the risk that garbage would go uncollected from residents and businesses,” Mr. Martens said.

The measure involves setting up a rail transloading operation at a Brentwood industrial site, DEC officials said.

The authorization came in response to an application by a Babylon solid waste management company called Omni Recycling.

“We’re working hard to implement this solution to the crisis,” Michael White, an attorney for Omni, said in an interview Friday. “We’re hoping to be moving waste out by next week.”

The buildup of garbage is due to a dwindling amount of long-haul flatbed trucks available to take solid waste off the island, Mr. White explained. Currently, there are no waste transfer stations in Nassau or Suffolk counties licensed to ship by rail.

“Increased tolls, increased congestion and increased fuel costs,” are to blame for the lack of available trucks, he said. But, he added, the increased use of freight trains to ship to and from the island is taking trucks off the road, Mr. White said. Typically, truckers taking goods to Long Island then haul back solid waste through a process called back-hauling, he said.

“Rail freight is becoming more active on Long Island,” Mr. White said. “That’s a good thing, but it also took the trucks off the road.”

Mr. White predicts more problems for Long Island in future summers, when the population swells and people in general are more active and produce more trash.

“We will continue to work with municipalities and the state, and within the industry to provide a long-term solution, which rail will be a part,” he said.

The 30-day temporary measure can be extended another 30 days, should the need still prove to be warranted.

In describing what will occur in Brentwood, the DEC announcement outlined several environmentally sensitive precautions being taken:

• No loose waste will be transported.

• The wrapped bales will be taken from trucks and placed directly onto rail cars without touching the ground.

• The train cars will be fitted with solid lids to “prevent odor impacts.”

• Within hours of loading, the cars will be removed from the Brentwood site as they make their way out of the state.

• Environmental monitors will be at the Brentwood locaiton and the Fresh Pond Rail Yard in Queens.

Southold Town’s solid waste coordinator, Jim Bunchuk, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, but he told Newsday that trash had been piling up at the town transfer station.

“We’re certainly grateful to be able to return to serving our residents with their garbage needs … ” he said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the town has not seen much of a problem. “I don’t think we’ve been impacted, but I’m glad it’s resolved,” Mr. Walter said. “Rail is probably the better way to take trash off Long Island anyway. I don’t know why we haven’t done that in the past.”

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