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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Long Island in 2035

The creation of a deepwater port in eastern Suffolk County was the most intriguing proposal to emerge from the Long Island Regional Planning Council‘s (LIRPC) just-released Sustainable Strategies for Long Island 2035 report.

The LIRPC‘s 119-page document explored many ways the Island’s economy could get a boost but correctly highlighted how agriculture is one of Suffolk’s largest industries. There are about 550 farms in Suffolk operating on approximately 34,000 acres, and they cumulatively generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales, according to the report. Yet a deepwater port on Long Island Sound would improve dramatically the marketability of Suffolk’s agricultural products off-Island while also paving the way for imports to Suffolk, the LIRPC rightfully points out.

To illustrate the economic benefits of a deepwater port, the LIRPC’s analysis cited the Port of Wilmington in Delaware, situated at the confluence of the Delaware and Christina Rivers, as a case study. One of the mid-Atlantic’s busiest ports, its activities employed this year about 4,300 people, either directly or indirectly, “which generated $405 million in business revenue for the State [Delaware] and $28 million in annual state and local taxes,” according to the Port of Wilmington’s fall 2010 newsletter. The facility was built in the 1920s and acquired by the state of Delaware in 1995.

The LIRPC‘s proposed initial action for assessing a deepwater port’s viability in eastern Suffolk County, and identifying potential sites, is to conduct a feasibility study. The unasked question: who has the resources to fund such an endeavor? The four organizations the LIRPC identifies as the entities charged with investigating this matter are the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, the MTA’s Long Island Rail Road, and the New York State Department of Transportation. Given that the Port Authority of NY and NJ is the third-largest port in the U.S., they would be a logical first door to knock on.

Beyond the deepwater port concept for eastern Suffolk County, there were few innovative ideas offered in what the LIRPC said was only the first phase of work from its Long Island 2035 Regional Comprehensive Sustainability Plan. The boilerplate economic development offerings were trotted out—the Island’s decision makers need to streamline local government, build affordable housing near LIRR stations, and make the region more business-friendly—even though they’re stale at this point.

Streamlining local government will do little to change the budgetary dynamic in Nassau County government, for instance, a municipality saddled with some of the worst long-term personnel contracts this side of the New York Mets. And many suburban voters automatically equate housing near LIRR stations with multiple-dwelling rental unit buildings so pursuing that idea is a non-starter in most Long Island municipalities. Finally, the tax and regulatory burdens of running a business here have been daunting for decades, and it is hard to envision that environment changing any time soon.

Nevertheless, the LIRPC has created a document which will serve as a conversation-starter for those debating Long Island’s long-term economic prospects. The study can be found at www.lirpc.org.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net