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Editorial: Ambitious proposals could bring profound changes to region

Talk about ambitious.

This week two enormous proposals were discussed that, if completed, would bring fundamental and profound changes to our region and all of Long Island. 

Simply put, these are the kind of think-big ideas that come from forward-thinking planners and government officials — people who act when critical issues arise and don’t concoct a mountain of excuses and conspiracy theories for doing nothing. 

On Monday, the Biden administration proposed a vast expansion of offshore wind power construction along the East Coast, including wind turbines in a large area between Long Island and New Jersey. The goal: generating 30,000 megawatts by 2030 — enough to light up a whopping 10 million homes.

The permitting process would be accelerated for these projects, which would also create onshore areas with deep harbors that could be used as staging grounds. Some $3 billion in federal loan guarantees for wind projects and port construction would be offered.

Infrastructure is America’s Achilles’ heel. We have tens of thousands of bridges nationwide that need immediate attention and airports that have outgrown spaces that once worked for them. Picture LaGuardia Airport just a few years ago. 

The idea for large offshore wind turbine farms is part of a proposed $3 trillion dollar economic recovery package that is heavy on major infrastructure improvements as well as efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, finally, make an impact, however late in the game, on climate change.

Climate change, contrary to the views of some of our public figures, was never a hoax or a con by a clever group of lefty scientists. It is as real as the sunrise and it is upon us now, with sea level rise an ongoing affair that will profoundly impact low-lying areas on both forks. The North Fork sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean like a bony, arthritic finger; there are places where salt water flanks major roadways. Scores of homes sit at the edge of bluffs above Long Island Sound. Streets routinely flood, notwithstanding full moons or nor’easters.

We can keep spending tens of millions moving around sand — and even houses — and building walls to shore up bluffs, or we can agree that the sea will continue to rise and we have to step away from the water’s edge and find other ways to deal with it.

New wind farms will create tens of thousands of jobs. The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates that as many as 2,000 turbines could be constructed offshore in just the next nine years, according to a story in The New York Times.

In our papers this week we write about a proposal that could, if ever completed, bring fundamental change to Long Island and the East End. A group of officials has proposed a high-speed rail in the Northeast that would include a 16-mile underwater rail tunnel connecting Connecticut and Long Island. Part of the dream-big plan is electrified rail connecting Riverhead to Ronkonkoma, replacing the existing diesel line.

This $105 billion project – if ever completed – was described by the planners as “transformative.” No kidding. Trains traveling 225 miles per hour can be found in Japan, China and other countries around the world; not so much in our country. Such travel would generate an economic boom.

The Riverhead line would include a stop at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, as part of a larger effort to connect research institutes throughout the region.

Decades ago some planners pitched a bridge between Long Island and Connecticut. This was never a good idea because thousands of cars would travel daily through local communities to reach the bridge. The current proposal is for a rail-only tunnel, with the entrance well back from the shoreline. As former Greenport mayor David Kapell put it, “It’s back to the future for Long Island.”

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