A post-Sandy tour of the Industrial Park


Following Wednesday’s New York Rising meeting, The Leader was invited on a tour of businesses and infrastructure in the village. Leading the tour were Rob Weltner and James Ruoco from Operation Splash, and also in attendance were Nancy Rucks from the New York State Department of State as well as New York city-based consultants Trent Lethco and Vincent Riscia from ARUP and James Lloyd from Urbanomics.

Mr. Lloyd explained that the purpose of the tour was to examine “the condition and vacancy rates of Freeport’s Industrial Park” and make them part of a “plan to be evolved” to deal with the state of the village, not only in terms of storm issues but economic ones. Mr. Riscia, noting larger numbers of vacant buildings in the Industrial Park, suggested that mixed use, business and open space, should be considered, as the cost of making all areas of south Freeport safe in the next storm needs to be taken into account.

Power Plant 2

“One thing we can’t move is the power plant,” one of the consultants observed, and so the first stop was Power Plant Two. With canals on three sides, and wetlands across the canals, the safety of the plant is a serious concern.

Anthony Fiore, Superintendent of Electric Utility, said that the water got within three feet of the curb in front of the office space on the north side of the building. Underneath that area is a tunnel connecting the building with transmission lines; had that tunnel flooded, all communication between the power plant and the outside world would have been lost. Mr. Fiore says that the electric utility has already received $700,000 from FEMA for mitigation of this and other issues, and received most of what it asked for.

Mr. Fiore then turned the tour over to Peter Reinke, a longtime electric utility employee who was at the plant during the storm. He described the southern part of the plant as the most vulnerable. Three tanks, two of which hold fuel oil, are housed in a depression designed to contain leakage a few feet from the water. Sandy caused that depression to fill with three feet of water; the third tank, decommissioned since 1991, actually moved a fraction of an inch on its foundation from the force of the water.

Mr. Reinke said that the plan was to install “Jersey barriers” from a sound wall in the southwestern corner across to the southeast corner of the property. Jersey barriers are interlocking pieces of concrete laced with pipe through which cables can be placed, interlocking the concrete together tightly “so they won’t go anywhere.”

Whither the DPW?

Just a short distance from Power Plant Two is the Freeport Department of Public Works. Although the DPW office building is set on a rise, the ground around it is low – lower then the power plant nearby.

Superintendent of Public Works Robert Fisenne said the front of the building got 1-2 feet of water, and the back inches. One major problem is that the transformers, computers and phones essential to DPW operations are down- stairs – so this building was without power for three weeks after the storm.

Mr. Fisenne then led the group on a tour of the garage space, where every village vehicle is represented – fire trucks, street sweepers, police cars, heavy trucks, vehicles for removing debris – all essential in the event of a natural disaster. Mr. Fisenne said that all of the vehicles had to be removed before the storm, and could no longer communicate with the DPW bulding. And there were problems with all that was left behind. A street sweeper couldn’t be moved, and it sits where it was left to this day. A line drawn on the wall of the DPW repair facility indicates three feet of water; gas tanks to fuel those vehicles were flooded.

Mr. Fisenne agrees with the village’s contention that the DPW should be moved. The most suggested location would be the NYS National Guard Arnory on Babylon Turnpike; but that property is tied up with legislation still in Albany, whereby a religious group is trying to acquire it. “I don’t like walling the area,” he said, referring to the DPW’s present location. There are valves and sewer mains on the property, which could make a barrier ineffective. The only other alternative is raising the property, a much more expensive option. One thing is certain: “If the roads are flooded, trucks and police cars can’t move.”

Two businesses in Freeport

A short distance away from the power plant and DPW is Greenfield Industries. Althrough he saw minimal flooding in Sandy, Peter Greenfield has seen a downturn in recent times Greenfield manufactures die-cast itemslight sockets and electrical boxes, among other things, and much of that business has gone elsewhere, to China and India, and businesses such as Greenfield are hard-pressed by increases in taxes, as well as the cost of power – even though he is one of the largest users of power in the Industrial Park.

“I need affordable space,” said James Thomas of JH Thomas Manufacturing on Merrick Road. Mr. Thomas’ business involves specialty manufacturing – “a dying industry in America.” He makes “Parts that no one else can make,” including computer parts and parts for Harley Davidson motorcycles.” Mr Thomas is proud of the fact that his small business was up and running three weeks after getting three feet of water from Sandy. His concerns include more space for his many machines, and training machinists – he has four trainees at this point.

In the most unlikely of places

An unexpected stop of the tour was the Albany Avenue offices of the Freeport Housing Authority, next to the Moxey Rigby apartments. James Ruoco told us that flood waters 5-6 feet high were reported there, although it’s not at all close to the water. It seem the culprit was the overflow from the nearby Meadowbrook Parkway, which had nowhere else to go but downhill toward Moxey Rigby.

Ths stop served to show how complex an organism a community is – a mix of governmental, business and residential parts that must all be dealt with, not only in their constituent parts but as part of the whole entity known as the Village of Freeport.