Members of an ad hoc committee of East Hampton residents opposed to the East Hampton School Board’s proposal to construct a bus maintenance and refueling depot on Cedar Street were heartened this week by the board’s strong interest in an alternative site.
At its meeting on Tuesday, Richard Burns, the district superintendent, said that the board has been in contact with East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell about a potential purchase of the long-disused scavenger waste facility on Springs-Fireplace Road, an option it began exploring seriously after loud objections arose to the Cedar Street plan. The scavenger waste location — which had for a few years been used only for the transfer of septic waste, before being closed for good in 2014 — would have an added convenience: There is a refueling facility, owned by the town and East Hampton Village, nearby on Springs-Fireplace Road.
A new depot is needed because the property on which the district currently stores and maintains its buses, at 41 Route 114, was recently sold by its owners, who had operated the Schaefer bus company. The district negotiated a new five-year lease for the property, but that is, “a stop-gap measure while planning for a long-term solution,” according to a fact sheet distributed by the board in November. When the present lease ends, in October, the annual rent for that site will rise from $106,000 to $200,000, with 3-percent annual increases to follow.
The proposed Cedar Street location, behind the playing fields on the East Hampton High School campus, has angered residents of Cedar Street and neighboring streets, such as Pine Street, who fear increased traffic, noise, and emissions from the buses. They formed a committee to oppose the plan, and many of its members were in attendance on Tuesday.
Consideration of the former scavenger waste facility as an alternative bus depot location, however, has similarly annoyed some residents of that area, some of whom have said, in letters to The Star, that their corner of town is already over-burdened with industrial activity and traffic, particularly trucks and other heavy vehicles.
“We have to pursue an appraisal” of the former sewage treatment site’s value, Mr. Burns said on Tuesday. In 2014, an engineering firm hired to assess its worth said it was not just of little value to the town — as a decommissioned waste treatment site serving only as a transfer station — it was, indeed, a financial “black hole.” It has since been cleared and okayed for sale for other purposes.
Receipt of a report assessing the potential impact of a bus depot under the State Environmental Quality Review Act is imminent, Mr. Burns said. “Obviously, if we’re going to make an offer to the town, we need that type of information,” he said.
Whichever site is chosen for the new bus depot, it will have to be suitable for vocational-classroom use, as well, Mr. Burns said. “There is stuff under the ground,” he said of the Springs-Fireplace location. “We have to be very careful about that property and we want to make sure it’s safe, because we certainly plan on building classroom space there if this is a proposal that we make to the community.” Those classrooms, he said, would be used for vocational programs for which students must currently travel to the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services facility in Riverhead.
The commute to BOCES, Mr. Burns said, robs students of instructional time. “Kids are cheated out of two to three periods a day. If we have something more localized, it would be fine.”
“Everybody needs to know that we have to put it somewhere,” said J.P. Foster, the school board president, of the proposed depot-and-classrooms facility. “This is going to go up as a referendum at some point. If it’s passed, it’s over; if not, we’re going to have to seek an alternative location,” possibly revisiting Cedar Street, he said. “We’re exploring every option we can.”
Initial hopes to hold a referendum on the topic in May are unrealistic, Mr. Burns and Mr. Foster agreed. “I can’t imagine anything happening before October,” the superintendent said.
In light of the direction taken during the discussion, members of the so-called Cedar Street Committee did not read a prepared statement. Instead, Vito Brullo, who lives on Pine Street, said, “Based on what we heard . . . we appreciate the fact that other [sites] are being considered.” The committee would discuss the matter and “have more to say” at the board’s next meeting. “Thank you very much for your help and your consideration.”