Fight rages on to stop Cuomo’s tunnel. location changes to Locust Valley

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Joining their Bayville neighbors, many Locust Valley residents now know about Gov. Cuomo’s plans to build a tunnel from Oyster Bay to Westchester County. The Village of Bayville Anti-Tunnel Committee held a meeting at Locust Valley High School on Wednesday, bringing a PowerPoint presentation that detailed the ramifications of the tunnel for the North Shore and drawing a crowd of over 400.

The committee had held a similar meeting in Bayville on April 24, but the venue, Bayville Intermediate School, was so crowded that many people were turned away. Mayor Paul Rupp, who formed the committee last June, said the meeting was scheduled with those people in mind, and also for residents of Locust Valley. It is the first of many meetings, he said, that the committee plans to hold in the villages that surround Bayville.

The committee is seeking volunteers to join in the fight to maintain the North Shore’s quality of life. There were people stationed at a table near the doors of the high school auditorium requesting that people sign up to volunteer.

This meeting attracted more elected officials than the last one, and many of them assured residents that they were committed to stopping the tunnel.

“This is a fight worth having,” said Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, of Woodbury, who is an independent, though he caucuses with the Democrats. “The tunnel will change the landscape of this area for the next century. Our fight will protect our drinking water and the next generation’s right to enjoy the quality of life we enjoy.”

Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a Democrat from Glen Cove, said that when she initially heard about the tunnel, she approved of it, thinking it would be a convenience. But after learning more about it, she changed her mind. “I’m so concerned about our aquifers,” she said. “The tunnel will dig under it.”

The governor ordered a feasibility study in 2017 to consider transportation alternatives, and concluded that a tunnel would be the best option. Cuomo has said he believes it would provide relief from congestion and spur economic development. It would be one of the largest infrastructure projects in the world, costing $31.5 billion.

The committee first learned that the tunnel was definite when members met with Peter Kiernan, the governor’s special counselor for infrastructure initiatives, on March 23, and Kiernan shared an update of the governor’s plans. He said the tunnel would take between 12 and 15 years to complete.

It would comprise a single multi-level tube with two lanes on each level, and would be 18 miles long. Nine miles would be under the Long Island Sound, and the other nine miles underground in Long Island and Westchester. The entrances and exits are planned to be north of the Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway and Jericho Turnpike, and south of the New England Thruway and Playland Parkway.

Former U.S. Rep. Lester Wolff fought a cross-sound bridge to Rye, a dream of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Robert Moses, in the 1960s. Wolff, who is now 99, attended the last meeting in Bayville, and came back on Wednesday, saying that his involvement in the 1960s was spurred by his belief that “the Long Island Sound is a national treasure, and deserves the attention of the federal government.”

The creation of a national wildlife refuge in Bayville helped Wolff succeed in stopping the construction of the bridge. The federal government needs to get involved again, he said, and a marine park should be created in the sound to stop the tunnel.

Deputy Mayor Joe Russo, who is also a member of the committee, spoke about Cuomo’s plan to pay for the tunnel by way of a tunnel authority, which would not be under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Transportation. “It could issue bonds, so the governor wouldn’t need funds from the State Legislature,” Russo said. “Tax-free bonds are attractive.”

State Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove, who opposes the tunnel, said he was doubtful that there would be enough support for a tunnel authority. “To create an authority, you need the agreement of the [state] Senate and Assembly,” Lavine said, adding that they need to create legislation. “I’ve coordinated with every majority member in the Assembly, and they don’t want it.”

He added that he had spoken to County Executive Laura Curran two hours before the meeting. She has not shared her opinion on the tunnel, but committee members at the previous meeting said they believed she might support it. “She said she’s preoccupied with a lot of issues, but with this proposal has grave concerns,” Lavine said. “She wants to meet with [the Anti-Tunnel Committee]. I recommend you do what Lester did — organize, remain vigilant and keep up the fight.”

To volunteer to fight the tunnel, contact John Taylor at jtaylor@bayvilleny.gov.