Civic groups from two neighboring townships joined forces March 2 to advocate for additional studies of a development along Route 25A.
Members of the civic group We Are Smithtown organized a rally on the corner of Mills Pond Road and Route 25A in St. James to protest the proposed Gyrodyne property development at the site. The group was joined by representatives from the Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition, Three Village Civic Association, Town of Brookhaven Citizens Advisory Committee for Route 25A, Setauket Harbor Task Force and Smithtown activist Amy Fortunato.
The company is hoping to build an assisted living home, hotel, medical offices and sewage treatment plant on the property.
James Bouklas, president of We Are Smithtown, said all in attendance opposed the development and were concerned about possible toxins in the soil of the former helicopter manufacturer’s land, along with a list of other concerns.
He and other protesters called on the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to take action and conduct an independent and rigorous forensic environmental study.
He described the potential development as “akin to building a new Smith Haven Mall on this rural, country stretch of Route 25A.”
The civic group president gave examples of former aviation manufacturers such as Lawrence Aviation and Grumman that he said, “operated behind a huge wall, often in secrecy, and in the end, they all left a legacy of pollution and toxic plumes.”
“Here is what we do know,” he added. “Gyrodyne was a defense manufacturer in those pre-Earth Day years of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when America wasn’t exactly careful about what went in the ground.”
The civic president also expressed concern that through the decades auto repair and photography businesses have operated on the Gyrodyne grounds as well as above-ground vehicle storage among others that may have released chemicals into the soil. The property is a short distance from Stony Brook Harbor.
“What goes into our groundwater quickly winds up as our drinking water,” he said. “There is no margin for error.”
In addition to environmental concerns, Bouklas cited traffic congestion on both 25A and Stony Brook Road.
Justin Bryant, who grew up in Smithtown and now lives in Stony Brook, said he too is concerned about chemicals in the ground at Gyrodyne, saying it’s been too long since a forensic environmental analysis was done.
“It’s important to remember where about 2,000 feet behind you a Superfund site, regulated by the [Environmental Protection Agency],” he said. “This site is on the national priorities list, which means it’s a site most at risk to the people who live in the area.”
“What goes into our groundwater quickly winds up as our drinking water. There is no margin for error.”
— James Bouklas
According to the EPA, there is a groundwater contamination site in the villages of Nissequogue and Head of the Harbor. Since the pollution was discovered in 1997, the agency has been monitoring the area’s ground and surface water.
Herb Mones, chair of the Three Village Civic Association land use committee and a 30-year resident of Stony Brook, said the historic corridor should be protected and preserved and any development should be done in a reasonable and sensible way to protect the surrounding communities.
George Hoffman, 1st vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, was co-chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Route 25A, where the Town of Brookhaven met with residents to gather their thoughts about what needed improvement on the corridor.
“You can’t save one part of the highway without saving the entire highway,” he said. “This is a really historic corridor.”
He pointed to an environmental study done more than 10 years ago, when the State University of New York bought 250 acres of Gyrodyne property, that found several chemicals in the soil. However, both Hoffman and others at the rally said the chemicals did not show up in the recent environmental study Gyrodyne paid for in the location of the potential subdivision.
“We’re really suspicious of how one part of the property could have had a lot of chemicals in it, where this part of the property now has apparently been given a clean bill of health,” he said.
Cindy Smith, chair of the Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition/United Communities Against Gyrodyne, held the first protest against the Gyrodyne development on the steps of Smithtown’s Town Hall Nov. 2017. After the March 2 press conference, she said she is pleased with the bond that has been formed with “like-minded civic groups in Smithtown and Brookhaven.”
As a member of Friends of Stony Brook Road, she has helped addressed the impact of the overcapacity street.
“We knew that the additional traffic from the proposed Gyrodyne development would cause even more quality-of-life and safety issues on our road, not to mention the increased financial burden to Brookhaven residents,” she said, adding she is also concerned about water quality, historical impact, increased taxes and more.
Smith said the organizations have given both town residents voice, and Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition/United Communities Against Gyrodyne has worked with environmentalists, including Carl Safina, Dick Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and John Turner conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society.
Smithtown spokesperson Nicole Garguilo said in a statement that the Town has been vigilant in following New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act requirement and law,
“It would be negligent, not to mention a dangerous, unethical precedent to ask the hard-working taxpayers of our community to foot a $500,000 (minimum) bill for a private property owners’ Environmental Impact Statement. Especially, when the EIS process requires the Town’s planning, engineering and environmental professionals to thoroughly review and verify the analysis,” Gargulio said.
A representative from Gyrodyne could not be reached for a comment about the protest or environmental study.
At the Suffolk County Legislature’s March 3 general meeting, a vote for a comprehensive planning study for the corridor was tabled until March 17.