By Cody Sullivan
The Garden City Board of Trustees approved a motion to hire legal counsel to explore potential litigation against the MTA and LIRR regarding the third track project. The 5-2 decision [trustee Brian Daughney was absent) came at an Oct. 22 special board meeting at St. Paul’s Cluett Hall following a private meeting with Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin and other lawyers.
“We found the meeting to be informative. We learned a great deal,” Mayor Theresa Trouvé said. “I do think most of us have the feeling that we want to litigate this subject.”
This is the final step before litigation would formally begin. The decision allows the board to retain legal counsel to assess its case against the MTA, give the board an estimated cost of litigation and determine how likely it is to be successful. The board previously voted down a similar measure, opting to wait until it could get more informal legal advice.
“I realize the last time I did not vote in support of hiring an attorney,” Trustee Robert Bolebruch said. “After our meeting with Mr. Clavin, and totally understanding the landscape of what we’re going through, I will absolutely support hiring an attorney with the intention of going through with litigation.”
The third track project has for months been met with opposition from Garden City residents as well as the board of trustees. Residents claim the construction has resulted in excessive removal of vegetation and the overall reduction in property values.
One major source of controversy has been the so-called “monster-poles” installed on the south side of the train tracks, which they [residents] say received little information about prior to construction.
“They knew they were going to put those poles up, they should have contacted, at least the people in the estates,” Trouvé said. “They should have brought you in and spoken to you.”
According to the MTA, there was an extensive environmental review and public outreach done prior to construction.
“Since 2016, the project team has held hundreds of public meetings to discuss the scope of project elements and has met with village boards, propertyowners’ associations, school districts, civic associations, business owners, residents and other stakeholder groups,” MTA spokesperson Meredith Daniels said.
The utility poles are being built by contractors hired by the MTA, but ownership will transfer to PSEG upon completion. Also under dispute is whether the lines that will connect the poles could have been buried underground.
“We also wish that the poles were not there and had pushed all along for the MTA/LIRR to bury lines where it could. The MTA/LIRR and its contractors did not meet those wishes and requests,” the Garden City Board of Trustees said in a statement.
Daniels says that the project has buried utilities where feasible and any vegetation removed from village property will be replaced.
“It’s possible vegetation and trees may be removed anywhere along the LIRR right-of-way because they present a hazard by blocking equipment and falling during weather events,” Daniels said. “Too many falling leaves cause dangerous “slip and slide” conditions for moving trains.”
The board expects to come to a final decision on whether to litigate in the coming days. Trustees are uncertain whether that decision will be made in a public forum. That will depend on what advice they receive from the special counsel, they said.