Orient residents and elected officials unite against truck freight plan

Orient Assocaition president Robert Hanlon polls the room Saturday morning, asking who opposed a proposed freight truck plan. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Orient Association president Robert Hanlon polls the room Saturday morning, asking who opposed a proposed freight truck plan. (Credit: Paul Squire)

If you were trying to find someone who supported the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s plan to divert tractor trailers through the North Fork, the last place you’d want to look was Saturday morning’s meeting at Poquatuck Hall in Orient.

The residents, elected officials and community leaders gathered there called it “ruinous,” “pointless,” and “an absolute disaster waiting to happen.”

“Maybe this, at the end of the day, might provide an opportunity for them to clean up this plan and to get rid what can only be described as a boneheaded idea,” said Town Supervisor Scott Russell.

During the meeting, Orient Association president Robert Hanlon took a poll of the room, asking who was opposed to the plan — which could add more than 3,000 heavy freight trucks to North Fork roads via the Cross Sound Ferry.

Everyone raised their hand.

The proposal comes from a section of the plan covering “marine highways” that outlines several projects to reduce freight congestion on roads in the New York metro area.

The project — called the Cross Sound Enhancement — was sponsored in 2012 by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and proposed to upgrade three ferry boats to allow for a 25 percent increase in truck capacity, bringing an estimated total of 15,000 trucks from New London to Orient each year.

Those trucks would then travel across routes 25 and 48 to the Long Island Expressway in Riverhead.

But Legislator Al Krupski said this very plan had been discussed five years ago and dismissed then.

“I think this is an artifact,” he said. “Somebody put something in a study and then years later somebody else uncovers it.”

Mr. Russell said Southold Town had numerous issues with the proposal. The extra 3,000 trucks a year would add 11 or 12 trucks a day to roads that couldn’t handle it, he said. The board also has “serious” concerns over safety and quality of life, noting trucks would pass within 30 feet of some residents’ front doors.

“I truly believe the people who crafted this plan never spent one day traveling from Orient Point to 495,” Mr. Russell said. “They have no idea about the 30 miles in between.”

County Executive Steve Bellone, who also serves as co-chair of the NYMTC and wasn’t able to attend the meeting Saturday, sent a statement in which he also opposed the idea.

“I appreciate the diligence of this community in unearthing this footnote, which may have been used as a basis for poor planning and poor public policy,” he wrote in the statement. “I will urge removal of any reference to the Cross Sound Enhancement project form the regional freight plan and will not vote in favor of the plan until such language is removed.”

In a statement, Congressman Lee Zeldin also denounced the plan and State Senator Ken LaValle asked for residents to share their opinions on the controversial proposal.

Locals at the meeting had many chances to do just that, slamming the project as a poor idea.

Anne Hopkins of Orient said freight trucks driving along Route 25 could “shake old houses apart.” East Marion Community Association president Robin Imandt also said the roadways were a coastal evacuation zone, which could be compromised if a tractor trailer crashed during an emergency.

Others questioned how the proposal was only revealed to the public earlier this month.

“How this came to be appalls me,” said Linda Apostle of Orient.

But elected officials said they were confident they could scrap the plan. And Mr. Hanlon — who said the Orient Association would also oppose the plan — said the response from legislators has been encouraging.

“Usually the wheels of government turn really slowly,” Mr. Hanlon said. “This is a good example of everything kind of working together.”

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