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Lawrence Aviation

The Suffolk County Landbank Corporation has been reaching out to community members for their feedback regarding the Lawrence Aviation property in Port Jefferson Station. Suggestions have included allowing the Long Island Rail Road to have a railyard on the property, installing solar panels on the industrial core of the property and using some parcels for open space. Concept image from Suffolk County Landbank Corporation

The Suffolk County Landbank Corporation has been reaching out to local organizations to discuss ideas for the future of a 126-acre Superfund property in Port Jefferson Station.

The SCLBC has been reaching out to community members to see what they would like to see be done with the property. Recently, the nonprofit’s president, Sarah Lansdale, has been meeting with members of local chambers and civic associations about the property. The SCLBC has also reached out to elected officials such as county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and briefed the two school districts affected by the site due to unpaid property taxes: Comsewogue and Three Village.

According to Peter Scully, deputy Suffolk County executive and SCLBC board member, the landbank had been authorized by the state Legislature to facilitate cleanup of blighted sites, and then return the properties to the county tax rolls. The SCLBC is involved in discussions with both the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Federal Department of Justice to talk about the future of the Lawrence Aviation property “and trying to make sure the community has some input into the future use,” Scully said.

One suggestion that has been considered is using a portion of the site as a Long Island Rail Road yard to facilitate electrification of the Port Jefferson Branch, he said. Scully added finding a suitable location along the branch for the railyard has been somewhat of a challenge with most of the communities fully developed.

Lansdale said that the land bank has received information from the Long Island Rail Road about what the environmental impact would be if the Port Jefferson Branch — from Huntington to Port Jefferson — were to be electrified.

“We would avoid approximately 7,800 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year,” Lansdale said.

Other suggestions for the site from the community that have been discussed with the EPA and DOJ have been preserving part of it as open space and the possibility of allowing the section that has been developed in the past being available for redevelopment for light industrial purposes. There have also been suggestions to use the property for solar panels on the industrial core of the property.

According to Scully and Lansdale, the federal government has invested more than $50 million into the property.

“Generally what the federal government will do will be to try and recover as much of the funding that it has expended as it possibly can, and typically when the government does that, it looks at what assets are available that it could use,” Scully said, “And in this instance, the only real asset is the real property. And so, in the absence of any sort of other arrangement or agreement, the federal government would likely just auction the property off.”

Scully said the outreach has been well received by community members.

“I think there’s a general appreciation on the part of these stakeholders that under a more conventional scenario, if the federal government was simply to auction off this property to the highest bidder on the town hall steps, the ability to shape future uses to meet community needs would be lost,” he said.

In a May 19 letter on behalf of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Mark Lesko — the former Town of Brookhaven supervisor — addressed to U. S. Magistrate Judge Anne Shields, Lesko stated that the U.S. and county “have made significant progress toward resolution of their outstanding issues, though not all matters are resolved.” An additional status report will be submitted to the district court on or before June 18.

The property, which was deemed a Superfund in 2000, has been surrounded by controversy since the early 1980s when the Suffolk County Department of Health issued a series of recommendations for the former defense contractor to be compliant with several pollution control laws. An April 2019 article in The Port Times Record reported that in 1999, testing performed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation revealed contamination of groundwater and surface water at the site.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in a 2019 memorandum, LAI used a front-end loader to crush 55-gallon drums containing hazardous substances which led to discharge of waste directly into the ground. The drums were among more than 1,600. Gerald Cohen, former CEO of Lawrence Aviation, was ordered to pay $48 million in cleanup costs for the toxic underground plume caused by materials leached into the ground on the property.

The EPA’s cleanup on the site has included the treatment of contaminated groundwater using two groundwater treatment systems to decrease the size of the groundwater plume. One system is on the property while the other is in the village of Port Jefferson, according to Scully.

Regarding property taxes, Lansdale said 2020 taxes associated with Lawrence Aviation are in excess of $860,000.  She added that “some parcels have been delinquent since 1993.”

“Every year that [taxes] haven’t been paid, Suffolk County taxpayers have been forced to bear the expense of making the other taxing jurisdictions whole,” Scully said, adding that means for school districts, fire districts and libraries.

“The tax burden associated with this property has been extreme,” he said.

While the county would typically take ownership of a property for nonpayment of taxes, when it comes to an environmental impairment such as Lawrence Aviation, the current situation absolves county taxpayers from the liabilities associated with environmental impairment, which would have a higher financial impact.

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Cedarwold Farm was a dairy with about 100 acres of pasture. Photo by Arthur S. Greene, from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Cedarwold Farm was a dairy that operated in Port Jefferson Station from 1892-1908.

The farm was located about one third of a mile west of today’s Port Jefferson Railroad Station, south of Sheep Pasture Road, in what was then called Echo.

The dairy included about 100 acres of pasture and 25 acres of woodland, fruit trees, a natural pond, an icehouse, a farmhouse, barns and outbuildings.

The property was comprised of two tracts: the Emmet B. Darling plot, purchased by Ebenezer Reeve in September 1892, and the Walter Jones parcel, bought by Reeve in April 1899.

Reeve was born in Laurel, New York, on May 8, 1851, and began farming at an early age. He married Sarah W. Torrey of nearby Mattituck in 1878; their daughter, Emma, was born the following year.

 

Looking east, center: The Long Island Rail Road tracks lead to Port Jefferson and Echo. Sheep Pasture Road is pictured left of the rails, Cedarwold Farm is right.
Photo by Arthur S. Greene, from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Reeve came to Port Jefferson Station in 1886 and quickly became well known among its community members. Besides working as the overseer at Darling’s farm, Reeve also ran the dairy’s milk route, which put him in almost daily contact with local residents.

Following Darling’s death in 1887, Reeve leased the farm from the Darling estate, later purchasing the property from the guardian of Darling’s daughter. Now the owner of a dairy that he had managed for years, Reeve gave his property a distinctive name, Cedarwold Farm, the “wold” an English term for an open, hilly area.

Not limiting himself to dairying, Reeve grew potatoes and turnips at Cedarwold, harvested ice from its pond and took in boarders. He also rented portions of the farm to groups that held outdoor events on the property. The location was especially popular among officials of the Long Island Rail Road who traveled to Port Jefferson by train, capping their outings with clambakes at Cedarwold.

Active in local affairs, Reeve was a member of Port Jefferson Lodge No. 627, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Port Jefferson Presbyterian Church, the Echo Progressive Society and the Port Jefferson Gun Club. He had also served as a deputy sheriff in Echo and as a trustee of the Echo Public School.

Reeve died on June 7, 1908, and was buried in Port Jefferson’s Cedar Hill Cemetery. His widow later moved to Connecticut to live with her daughter, Mrs. John Bossen.

Besides a natural pond, Cedarwold Farm included an icehouse, woodlands, fruit trees, a farmhouse, barns and outbuildings. Photo by Arthur S. Greene, from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Cedarwold Farm was sold in 1910, changed hands several times over the years and had various uses. Portions of the property were once occupied by a sand mine, an asphalt plant, a turkey farm and a landscaping business, but more recently by now idle Lawrence Aviation Industries, a manufacturer of titanium sheeting for the aeronautics industry.

Reeves Road, which connects Port Jefferson’s Main Street with Sheep Pasture Road, is a reminder of Ebenezer Reeve, his idyllic farm and Long Island of yesteryear.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.

Gerald Cohen during a 2010 interview with TBR News Media. Image from video by TBR News Media

The former CEO of Lawrence Aviation in Port Jefferson, Gerald Cohen, has been ordered to pay $48 million in cleanup costs for the toxic underground plume caused by materials leached into the ground from the now-defunct airplane parts manufacturer.

The U.S. Attorney’s office announced the charges April 15 after a district court judge in Central Islip ruled Lawrence Aviation Industries, Inc, a former defense contractor that was based on Sheep Pasture Road, and its longtime owner and CEO, Gerald Cohen, were liable for environmental cleanup costs.

“This case and the significant monetary penalties imposed by the court should serve as a warning to would-be polluters, including individuals, that this office and the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] will use every tool at their disposal to protect Long Island’s groundwater and to ensure that those responsible for contamination will foot the bill for cleanup costs,” said Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The U.S. Attorney’s office detailed Cohen’s wrongdoing based on the court’s 37-page memorandum. In the early 1980s, after the Suffolk County Department of Health issued a series of recommendations for LAI to come into compliance with various pollution control laws, LAI used a front-end loader to crush 55-gallon drums containing hazardous substances, among more than 1,600 of such drums identified on the property, resulting in a massive discharge of waste directly onto the ground. Samples taken from those drums revealed impermissibly high levels of trichloroethylene, among other pollutants. Nearly two decades later, in 1999, testing performed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation revealed contamination of groundwater and surface water at the site.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent.”

— Pete Lopez

In a statement to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the regional EPA administrator said he was pleased with the court’s decision.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent,” said EPA regional administrator Pete Lopez. “Our active engagement and work at this site will continue over the long term.”

Various creditors have asserted claims against LAI and Cohen properties based on their respective liens. Those claims remain pending before the court. The 126-acre property was named a Superfund site in 2000 and was expected to take 20 years to complete the cleanup.

The EPA’s cleanup of the site, now into its 19th year, has included a remedial investigation into the nature and scope of the contamination, various hazardous waste removal and stabilization activities, and the implementation and maintenance of two groundwater treatment systems designed to capture and treat contaminated groundwater, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. The EPA’s activities at the LAI site have resulted in a decrease in the size of the groundwater TCE plume and the removal of more than 18,000 tons of soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, among other hazardous substances, including asbestos-containing materials.

In 2008, Cohen and LAI pleaded guilty to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, for storing hazardous wastes at the LAI facility without a permit issued by the EPA or New York State. Cohen was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year and a day, and supervised release of 36 months. He and LAI were ordered to pay restitution to the EPA of $105,816.

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Video shows the second blaze of the night March 9 being battled by the Terryville and neighboring fire departments. Video by Port Jefferson Fire Chief Charlie Russo

Three fires were intentionally lit March 9, with the first starting just before 1 p.m. and the last starting at 9:15 p.m. at the site of the former industrial air-craft part manufacturer Lawrence Aviation off Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson Station, according to the Suffolk County Police Department.

“Police were called to a fire at an abandoned home on the property at 12:55 p.m,” the department said in a statement. “Several hours later, police responded to another structure fire on the property at 8:50 p.m. At approximately 9:15 p.m. police responded to a fire at a third structure. The fires were intentionally set. There were no injuries.”

The Terryville Fire Department responded to the calls and extinguished the fires with help from neighboring departments. Two firefighters were transported to a local hospital for precautionary reasons, according to the department.

The department responded to the first fire on the property at a vacant house at about 1 p.m. according their Facebook page.

“Hours later they responded to the same sight for another fire, that was well involved,” the post said. “Moments later they were notified of a third fire on the Lawrence Aviation property, which is a Super Fund Site.”

The second fire was in a vacant private dwelling on Willis Avenue Extension off of Sheep Pasture Road, just north of the Lawrence Aviation Property.

“Our department responded to the same location earlier in the day for a bedroom fire which was quickly extinguished,” the post said. “The second fire in the evening was unrelated to and more extensive than the first and had started in a separate section of the home…at approximately 9:30 p.m., while units were still operating at the house fire on Willis Avenue Extension, we were alerted to an additional structure fire, this one reported to be on the property of the defunct Lawrence Aviation Property.”

Suffolk County Police Department Arson Section detectives are investigating the incidents.

A site is declared a Superfund site if it has been contaminated by hazardous waste and is designated for cleanup by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because it poses a threat to human health and/or the environment.

Brookhaven Town restricted development at the polluted site in July 2015 using a special zoning district. Lawrence Aviation dumped harmful chemicals at the site over years, contaminating soil and groundwater. The EPA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have been working for several years to undo the damage through the federal Superfund program, which cleans up such contaminations of hazardous materials, but it could still take two more decades to completely clean local groundwater.

Old Mill Creek and its banks have been cleaned up. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Elana Glowatz

Old Mill Creek is almost back to its old self.

Old Mill Creek and its banks have been cleaned up, enticing a duck to swim in it Tuesday. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Old Mill Creek and its banks have been cleaned up, enticing a duck to swim in it Tuesday. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Restoration work on the troubled waterway in downtown Port Jefferson is nearing completion, and its look has drastically changed. Previously choked with vegetation, the sloped banks of Old Mill Creek have been cleared out and replaced with native freshwater plants, and Holbrook-based contractor G & M Earth Moving Inc. has added rock supports.

“These are the exact type of plants that belong along a freshwater stream like this,” village Trustee Bruce D’Abramo said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s going to be very interesting to see what it looks like next spring.”

The project, which began earlier this year, is geared toward improving water quality in the creek, which discharges into Port Jefferson Harbor. Work included removing built-up sediment that was impeding water flow; installing water filters; and repairing a blocked pipe that channels the creek underneath Barnum Avenue but in recent years had caused flooding during high tides and storms.

Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez
Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez

Water quality is important at Old Mill Creek because it affects the health of the harbor. But over the years the creek has been battered by invasive plants, flooding and pollution. The former Lawrence Aviation Industries, an aircraft-parts manufacturer in Port Jefferson Station, was the site of illegal dumping for many years and the hazardous chemicals traveled down-gradient through the soil and groundwater, with some of it seeping into Old Mill Creek.

The village’s restoration project includes filtration, and D’Abramo said one of the final steps to completing the work is installing a catch basin along Barnum Avenue to collect stormwater runoff before it rushes into the waterway.

Old Mill Creek starts on the west side of the village, near Longfellow Lane and Brook Road, passes the Caroline Avenue ball field and streams under Barnum. When it emerges on the other side, it goes past Village Hall and turns north, running under West Broadway and into the harbor.

D’Abramo expects the restoration to be completed before the end of this year. In addition to installing the catch basin, the contractor is also replacing a brick walkway along the side of the creek.

Town officials are limiting development at the former site of Lawrence Aviation Industries. File photo

By Elana Glowatz & Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town will restrict development at a polluted site in Port Jefferson Station using a special zoning district.

The town board approved the new zoning for the former property of aircraft-parts manufacturer Lawrence Aviation Industries on Thursday night, several months after approving a land use plan for the site off Sheep Pasture Road that called for the special district.

Adjacent to a stretch of the Greenway Trail and some residences in the northern part of the hamlet, the site requires closer inspection because of its history — Lawrence Aviation dumped harmful chemicals at the site over years, contaminating soil and groundwater. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have been working for several years to undo the damage through the federal Superfund program, which cleans up such contaminations of hazardous materials, but it could still take two more decades to completely clean local groundwater.

Brookhaven’s land use plan recommended the special zoning district to limit potential commercial uses at the contaminated site in the future — for instance, some uses that would be permissible in light industry zoning elsewhere in town will not be permitted at Lawrence Aviation, like agriculture, churches, day cares, recreation halls or schools. It does not support retail uses, but does not rule out office uses like laboratories and other research space.

The new district includes two zones — at the property and at nearby residential sites — and seeks to “protect those who occupy the site,” according to Beth Reilly, a deputy town attorney.

In addition to restricting some uses and prohibiting residential development in the former industrial area, it provides incentives such as speedier environmental reviews and eased requirements for lot setbacks and sizes to promote alternative energy production there, particularly solar energy.

To further protect residents, no new homes constructed in the neighborhood area of the special district could have basements, due to the contamination to local soil and groundwater.

Reilly was quick to point out that this didn’t mean the town was moving backward —all existing basements could stay.

The basement ban goes hand in hand with legislation the town passed last year that requires all new homes built near contaminated properties like Lawrence Aviation to be tested for soil vapors before they can receive certificates of occupancy.

The Lawrence Aviation zoning district passed, following a public hearing, with an abstention from Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who reiterated his opinion that the site should remain undeveloped. He also renewed his call for Suffolk County to add the property to its land bank or use it for open space so it could “heal itself.”

When Romaine first made that suggestion in the fall, he pointed to the $12 million lien the county had on the site, resulting from all the property taxes owed on the site. The EPA has another $25 million lien on the property due to the cost of the cleanup.

Councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Dan Panico (R-Mastic) have supported the idea.

“I really think the county should consider this for an acquisition into their land bank,” Panico said Thursday.

The Suffolk County Land Bank Corporation, established in 2013, aims to rehabilitate contaminated properties, known as brownfields, to get them back on the county’s property tax roll. The county pays property taxes on abandoned parcels, which causes the tax liens on the properties — and thus their sale prices — to increase, but the land bank lets the county sell the properties for less than the taxes owed, making it easier to get them cleaned up and redeveloped.

Workers clean up the section of Old Mill Creek behind Village Hall. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Old Mill Creek has been an unusual sight lately for those who are used to seeing the narrow Port Jefferson waterway choked with vegetation.

A contractor recently began working on the troubled creek, uprooting invasive trees and plants a few weeks ago and clearing the view to passersby. This week, workers were standing in the stretch of the stream behind Village Hall with an excavator at its bank. They are restoring the eastern half of the creek, which discharges into Port Jefferson Harbor.

Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez
Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez

Port Jefferson Village has a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to install rock supports at the creek, replace invasive plants with freshwater species, remove built-up sediment that blocks water flow, install filters to improve water quality and repair a pipe known as a culvert that channels the creek under Barnum Avenue.

That culvert repair will alleviate some flooding issues downtown, because the pipe is largely blocked up and causes problems during high tide and storms when the creek swells.

A goal of the project is to improve water quality in the creek and, indirectly, in the harbor.

Last month the village hired Holbrook-based contractor G & M Earth Moving Inc. to perform the restoration work and will use a DEC grant to cover three-quarters of the cost.

Old Mill Creek starts near Longfellow Lane and Brook Road, passes the Caroline Avenue ball field and goes under Barnum. From there it goes past Village Hall and wraps around Schafer’s restaurant before running under West Broadway and into the harbor.

Over the years, invasive species, flooding and pollution have beaten up the creek. Hazardous chemicals that had been illegally dumped over many years at the former Lawrence Aviation Industries property, an aircraft-parts manufacturer in Port Jefferson Station, traveled down-gradient into the creek.

Beyond the current restoration project, the village has further plans for improving and protecting the waterway, including doing similar work on the half of it west of Barnum Avenue and reducing stormwater runoff in its entire 517-acre watershed area.