The MTA has reached a tentative deal to acquire land at the former Lawrence Aviation site in Port Jefferson Station with the goal to transform it into an LIRR rail yard, the transit authority’s chairman and the Brookhaven Town Supervisor said.
The creation of a yard there has long been considered a necessary step toward the potential electrification of the reliability-challenged Port Jefferson line.
At a state budget legislative hearing in Albany on Wednesday, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and CEO Janno Lieber revealed that there is “an agreement in principle” to acquire land at the superfund site, which, since 2016, has been eyed by MTA, state, Suffolk County, and Brookhaven Town officials as a potential location for an LIRR yard.
“There’s an agreement that’s being subject to all the lawyering. There’s all kinds of little issues. We’re going to keep working on it and try to move forward as best we can,” Lieber said, responding to a question from Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) about the property. “I don’t know everything about those specifics, but I do know that we have an agreement in principle.”
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Daniel Panico on Thursday confirmed that the MTA has been “in contract” to acquire property at the Lawrence Aviation site since December 27.
MTA officials would not provide further details on the deal, instead deferring to Lieber’s testimony, in which he called the site “the best opportunity to create a yard” for the Port Jefferson line. The branch historically has been limited in the amount and reliability of service it can offer because its tracks are not electrified. The diesel engines that serve Port Jeff commuters are typically less reliable than the electric trains, which make up the majority of the LIRR’s fleet. Diesel passengers are often required to transfer to and from electric trains when traveling into and out of New York City.
Although the MTA has not committed to electrifying the branch — a potentially expensive proposition for the agency — it has studied capacity improvements on the branch, and included electrification of the line among several projects under consideration in its recently published “20-Year Needs Assessment.”
Lieber said building a yard in Port Jefferson is a “precondition” for someday growing service for branch commuters. “It is a necessary first step,” he said.
Lawrence Aviation was declared a Superfund site in 2000 with the discovery of trichloroethylene, or TCE, a solvent used to remove paint and grease. Inspectors also found acid waste, oils, sludge, metals and other toxic debris at the site. The company closed in 2003.
Federal prosecutors last year approved a settlement that made most of the site available for redevelopment, ending years of legal limbo for the property.
with Carl MacGowan