Edward Cataldo of Middle Village has lived near the tracks leading from the Fresh Pond Rail Yard for 50 years.
And he and his neighbors fear that a decision made 50 miles away over which they had no say could greatly impact their lives.
On Sept. 13 the Suffolk County Legislature voted to sell more than 200 acres of land to the owners of the Brookhaven Rail Terminal in Yaphank.
The fear in Queens is that an expanded rail terminal in Suffolk County could mean a tremendous increase in rail traffic coming through Middle Village, Glendale and Maspeth, particularly those carrying garbage.
“I know Suffolk County has a major budget deficit,” Cataldo said. “Even though we were there, Long Island environmental groups were there, I felt it was already a done deal. I read in Newsday that when we left, someone said what we didn’t bring was a $20 million check. Now I’m afraid Queens residents will have to bear the brunt.”
Operations at Fresh Pond have expanded in recent years to the point where trains either are parked or sit idling on the tracks outside the yard because of space considerations.
And that, Cataldo said, is for a rail yard that covers only 10 acres. He said the biggest problems come from trains laden with trash which pass through or just sit on the tracks near his and his neighbors’ houses.
The smells and the diesel fumes are the worst, he said. And even before anything comes from out east, Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village residents will have to contend with a ruling this summer from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation that will allow garbage collected from five sanitation districts in Brooklyn to be added to garbage already rolling through Fresh Pond.
“PS 128 is right nearby,” he said. “Children are breathing that in. We’re afraid our asthma and cancer rates will go up. And those fumes don’t just sit there around the tracks. A lot of people are breathing them in and don’t know it.”
Published reports quote representatives of the Brookhaven terminal saying they will work with local advisory boards should any future actions present a possible impact in Queens.
Another problem beyond the idling of engines is the noise of trains coupling and uncoupling, the charging of air brakes and the simple metal-on-metal of wheels on rails.
Cataldo believes some local elected officials want to keep the focus on the noise problem rather than on the pollution and health aspects.
Railroads in the United States almost universally come under the regulation and authority of the federal government under interstate transportation and commerce.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) sent representatives to the hearing in Suffolk to voice their concerns.
A spokesman for Hevesi said Tuesday that the assemblyman would be monitoring the situation to see if anything can be addressed at the state level, or to react to any development or expansion plans to come out of Suffolk County.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said the senator has worked to keep trains transporting garbage covered in order to minimize the leak of odors to surrounding areas.
In the meantime, Cataldo expects Suffolk environmental organizations to go to court to block the rail expansion.
“I hope they win,” he said.