Big plans, but Hub still hinges on Suffolk sewers

Hubba hubba: It's a grand economic-development strategy, but a lack of sewers is still slowing the Ronkonkoma Hub redevelopment plan, according to State Sen. Tom Croci.

By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //

Progress is coming in drips and drabs, but the lack of sufficient sewer systems remains the No. 1 impediment to the ambitious Ronkonkoma Hub redevelopment project.

That was the main message Wednesday, when the MacArthur Business Alliance – a 23-year-old networking organization promoting commercial, industrial and not-for-profit interests across Suffolk County – hosted a meeting at Ronkonkoma’s Courtyard by Marriott to update interested parties on the project’s progress and potential effects.

Tritec Real Estate’s roughly $500 million Ronkonkoma Hub project is designed to upgrade the neighborhood surrounding the Long Island Rail Road’s Ronkonkoma station, including the creation of new jobs, new housing opportunities and new commercial real estate accommodating upscale shops and restaurants.

It’s also meant to provide an easier access point to parts of Brookhaven Town and Eastern Long Island, while serving as a key part of the LIRR’s improvement strategies.

State Sen. Tom Croci, R-Hauppauge, was on hand at Wednesday’s meeting and stressed that government’s key role in the development project is to provide basic infrastructure, primarily sewer service – a vital cog that would allow private enterprise to invest in the region and spur the intended economic growth.

Regional governments, however, have not always been on the same page about how best to get there.

In August 2010, the Town of Brookhaven unveiled an initial proposal for a $25 million sewer plant for the Hub project. Suffolk County, meanwhile, championed a seven-mile pipeline from the Ronkonkoma Hub site through the Village of Islandia to the Bergen Point Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Babylon.

Not satisfied with those plans, Croci created his own proposal – one that theoretically offered more sewer infrastructure and, according to the senator, doubled regional economic-development opportunities, but also more than doubled the cost of the original Brookhaven Town sewer plan.

Tom Croci: Without sewers, the MacArthur business corridor is all wet.

As designed, Croci’s $55 million plan would push the extended sewer line from Long Island MacArthur Airport south through Oakdale and Sayville, eventually hooking up with a connection to the Bergen Point plant.

On Wednesday, the senator reiterated his beliefs that his plan would stimulate more sustainable economic growth and urged regional business owners to unite with the MacArthur Business Alliance and other like-minded groups to advance the project.

“The lack of sewer infrastructure is the single-most significant impediment to economic growth and environmental protection for the MacArthur business corridor and all of central Suffolk County,” Croci told Innovate LI. “The absence of sewers prevents economic growth and imposes a significant, regularly occurring additional cost to existing employers, using resources that could otherwise be used for job creation.”

Croci also extolled the benefits his sewer-extension plan would provide for Suffolk’s water supply, calling the installation of sewers along the MacArthur business corridor “the single-most effective step to protect Suffolk’s groundwater aquifer, our area’s sole source of drinking water.”

Also speaking at Wednesday’s meeting was LIRR Senior Director of External Affairs Hector Garcia, who discussed the railroad’s current infrastructure updates, including several related to the Ronkonkoma Hub project.

Among his updates was the LIRR Double Track Project, which will add a second track to the 18-mile stretch between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma and is slated to be completed by the end of 2018.

Garcia noted the project will greatly increase the railroad’s efficiency by enabling more trains to run in both directions during peak hours, and said when the Ronkonkoma Hub project is completed, it would include bus service connecting the new Ronkonkoma station to the North Shore.

The LIRR spokesman also noted impending upgrades at both Jamaica Station and Penn Station, also designed to alleviate congestion and improve overall railroad performance, and outlined some of the improvements coming to the revamped Ronkonkoma station, including physical renovations and new WiFi services.

Garcia noted the LIRR is also proposing an extensive expansion of its Ronkonkoma train yard, allowing for the storage of a larger number of trains ready to head into New York City – particularly important, he noted, with the railroad targeting expanded train service into Grand Central Station by 2022.

MacArthur Business Alliance President Matt Miller, who thanked Croci “for his efforts in trying to bring sewers to the business district,” said the alliance was “looking forward to the addition of the second rail to help business commuters get better access to New York City.”

Alliance members were also eagerly anticipating their next meeting, scheduled for June 22, at which Town of Islip officials are expected to reveal the findings of a study of a critical artery connecting Islandia and Holbrook.

“We are excited and looking forward to hearing from the town’s commissioner of planning on the study done on the redevelopment of the Veteran’s Highway corridor,” Miller said.