After one year of "dead silence" from MTA/LIRR officials, Floral Park Mayor Phil Guarnieri recently got a call from LIRR's director of government affairs, as did Bellerose Village Mayor Donna Sherrer, requesting a meeting - ASAP - to provide the respective villages with a status report on the Main Line Corridor Improvement Project - or what is now commonly referred to as the "third track project."
On the verge of seeking several procedural approvals, the MTA/LIRR did not want any information leaking to the public without first briefing respective legislators and mayors. Railroad officials also met with neighboring communities as well, including Mineola, New Hyde Park and Garden City.
The latest news: the MTA/LIRR has assured village officials in Bellerose, Floral Park and even nearby Garden City that the condemnation of land in their respective communities to make way for a "third" track is no longer on the table. Moreover, both agencies have confirmed they will not construct an additional track in a "very significant portion" of Floral Park - the western edge border, with Belmont track in Elmont and Bellerose Village, nor will it construct one easterly through to Tulip Avenue, in the heart of Floral Park's business district.
"As a result, its current plans eliminate any expansion directly adjacent to the Floral Park-Bellerose Elementary School, as well as our entire West End neighborhood bordering on Atlantic Avenue, the firehouse, the village library and the heart of the Floral Park business district on Tulip Avenue. Finally, there is no plan whatsoever to construct any track on the north side of the Main Line tracks in Floral Park, all the way from Bellerose to New Hyde Park," Mayor Guarnieri stated in a recent mayor's column.
MTA/LIRR officials said this project downscaling was their attempt to respond to the many objections Floral Park Village residents, along with residents of its sister communities, raised regarding another track. "Obviously, our straightforward and unified message was heard loud and clear," Mayor Guarnieri stated in his Dec. 11 mayor's message.
He believes this is a "tremendous victory" for residents and Floral Park's quaint business community and a "great relief to everyone whose home or business was held hostage to the MTA-LIRR's threat to use its power of eminent domain in Floral Park." he said.
Bellerose Village Mayor Donna Sherrer also deemed this latest development "good news" for residents. At a project-briefing meeting Dec. 1, 2005, the LIRR reported to her that their plans now reflected a proposed alignment to start east of the Floral Park station.
"The good news is that there will be no third track in Bellerose Village, the station and the school tunnel will remain open and, most importantly, there will be no demolition of homes, taking of property or temporary easements in Bellerose Village. There will be no construction on the tracks in Bellerose Village and West End of Floral Park," Mayor Sherrer said in a recent mayor's column, which is posted on the village's website, www.bellerosevillage.org.
Instead, the MTA/LIRR plans on constructing an additional track only to the south of the existing Main Line tracks, starting at South Tyson Avenue. This additional track in Floral Park will be constructed 14 feet closer to nine Floral Park residential properties, as well as Floral Park's entire Recreation and Pool facilities, not encroaching, however, on any village land.
Floral Park Trustee Thomas Tweedy, chair of the village's Third Track Task Force, attended the recent briefing with LIRR executives and representatives of its engineering firm along with Mayor Guarnieri, Village Administrator Ginny Appel and Village Attorney John Ryan. The LIRR presented the preliminary track layout of the proposed additional Main Line "third" track.
Tweedy told the Dispatch that the preliminary proposal provides for the construction of a continuous retaining wall. "This wall will be built beyond the track and train clearances. In other words, the trains will not ride upon the retaining wall but rather within a wall with a parapet. The retaining wall will be extended upward some four to five feet higher than the tracks. This detail will provide both a visual/safety barrier at the bottom of the trains as well as a sound attenuation/baffling wall," he explained.
Villages: We Remain Ever Vigilant
Trustee Tweedy remains cautiously optimistic. "At this time, the LIRR's engineering group is very short on design/construction specifics and, as we all know, the devil is in the details," he said, adding however that he does believe Floral Park made an impact. "Even with this most positive preliminary information we still must oppose the construction of this unwanted and unnecessary billion dollar megaproject," he continued.
Mayor Sherrer agreed. "While it is a positive milestone, I must caution that it is only a briefing and a proposal. I will continue to work with the officials of Floral Park, Stewart Manor, Garden City, Mineola and the other Main Line communities to continue to fight for the quality of life we invest in and take pride in," she said.
In the meantime, Mayor Guarnieri assured his village's officials would analyze all the potential impacts of any proposed construction and installation within the village.
Bellerose Village Trustee Rosaleen Shea, co-chair of the Bellerose Village LIRR Taskforce, added, "While we are appreciative that the MTA/LIRR reached out to share project milestones, we are still united in support of our sister communities along the Main Line. This was only an interim proposal subject to change that will go out for public comment this year, and we urge the public to again voice their concerns regarding this project.
Shea continued, stating, "I am proud to live in Bellerose Village and cherish the quality of life that all of the Main Line communities value and want to preserve. I am hopeful that MTA LIRR will find creative alternatives to redesign this project to ensure the safety, security and viability of Nassau County's Main Line communities."
Once the MTA/LIRR submits its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to the Federal Transportation Authority, there will be another opportunity for public review and comments, which Mayor Guarnieri assured he would fully participate in. This commenting period is scheduled sometime between September and December of 2007.
Both mayors thank Senators Kemp Hannon and Dean Skelos and former Senator Michael Balboni for their efforts in protecting all the residents and businesses that call these villages home.