Tag Archive | "Long Island Rail Road"

Developer: Let’s Deal, Village Wants MTA Property

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By Kathryn G. Menu

The Village of Sag Harbor will likely use eminent domain in an attempt to acquire a 16,405 square-foot waterfront parcel sandwiched between village-owned beachfront next to Route 114 and property owned by condominium developer Emil Talel, according to Mayor Brian Gilbride.

On Tuesday, Talel confirmed that his company has formally taken title to the property, which was owned by the Long Island Railroad. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced last year that it would sell the property, and both Talel’s company and the Village of Sag Harbor placed bids on the land.

Talel owns an adjacent property and he has long sought to develop condominiums there. Known as the Ferry Road condominiums, several versions of that project were under review by the Village of Sag Harbor when the village’s code changed, drastically reducing the number of condominium units allowed on the parcel.

As a result, Talel’s firm, East End Ventures, filed two lawsuits against the village, including a $30 million civil action that claimed the developers were led to believe they would be exempt from the new code. While a majority of that claim has been dismissed, one aspect of it — the project’s similarities with the approved condominium project at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory, which was given exemption from the village code, is still being heard.

Talel, who hoped to use the LIRR property to meet setbacks on his now defunct project, bid $201,000 to gain ownership of the property. The village, which Mayor Gilbride said hoped to use the land along with adjacent village-owned waterfront to create a public park, bid $90,101, and despite the public benefit of parkland was not awarded the property.

On Tuesday, Talel said he had hoped that now that his firm owns the property they would be able to strike a deal with the village where his company would offer full easement for public access to the land, as well as put a hold on both pending lawsuits, while negotiations could begin with the village towards a project that would make “economic sense” for East End Ventures to proceed with.

However, on Wednesday, Gilbride said he was reaching out to village attorneys to look into commencing eminent domain proceedings to take ownership of the property.

Eminent domain is an action municipalities can use to seize private property to be used for public or civic use, or for the creation of infrastructure like public utilities, highways or railroads.

Mayor Gilbride said the village has long sought the property for the creation of a public park, which would increase public access to the waterfront — a tenet of the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP).

On Wednesday, Talel criticized the village, noting he has tried on several occasions to meet with village officials in an effort to move past litigation and towards a project both sides can be happy with. He also questioned why the village would expend what he said would be “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to continue this battle when his firm has already offered to create a public park in conjunction with their condominium project.

“I cannot speak to that yet,” said Gilbride, citing ongoing litigation.

Working the Rail Road


By Karl Grossman

 “We hear a lot about waste, fraud and abuse in government—this is the Trifecta,” declared Congressman Steve Israel of Huntington. He was speaking at a hearing presided over by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the five Congressional representatives from Long Island on the disability scam engaged in by most retirees of  the Long Island Rail Road.

“My goal is simple,” said Congressman Tim Bishop of Southampton. Those who broke the law “should be brought to justice.”

“This is another scam on the taxpayer we’re investigating today,” said Mr. Cuomo. Since 2000, he noted, some 90 percent of LIRR employees filing for retirement applied simultaneously for disability. And 97 percent were granted it, thus receiving disability payments along with retirement money. A “cottage industry” sprung up involving consultants and doctors to help facilitate this “classic scam on the taxpayer.”

“The concept was: it’s no one’s money.” But the federal dollars—$250 million since 2000—“is money, too,” said Mr. Cuomo. This “has to stop,” he said, “especially today, when the taxpayer is under pressure in a tough economy.”

The New York Times broke the story. The hearing October 27, which followed up  The Times’ expose, was held at the SUNY College at Old Westbury, where I teach, and I brought my Investigative Reporting class to it. The students were impressed to hear Congressman Gary Ackerman of Bayside say: “As a former journalist, I’m heartened that solid investigative reporting brought this to public attention.”

It was a thorough and well-positioned (top of Page 1) expose in The Times on September 20 headlined “A Disability Epidemic Among a Railroad’s Retirees.” The product of reporting by four journalists, it began: “To understand what it’s like to work on the railroad—the Long Island Rail Road—a good place to start is the Sunken Meadow golf course.” It is there, related the piece, where it’s “not uncommon” to find throngs of “retired LIRR employees…golfing.” They are “considered disabled” and “get a pension and tens of thousands of dollars in annual disability payments….Virtually every [LIRR} career employee…applies for and gets disability payments soon after retirement, a computer analysis of federal records by The New York Times has found.” That totals “about” 2,000 LIRR personnel since 2000. “Railroad officials say that as far as they know, most of the disabled workers were able-bodied” but upon retirement “only then filed papers seeking occupational disability payments.”

An important expose—yes—but why has this been going on for so long?

Kim Porcelain, the LIRR comptroller from 2001 to earlier this year, testified that when she began in the position she picked up on the overwhelming percentage of LIRR employees applying for disability at the same time they filed for retirement and virtually all of them getting approved. She said she “raised the issue” with the hierarchy of the LIRR, the inspector general of its parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board which manages disability claims. And she continued pressing, she said.

And nothing came of it.

“Everyone sort of knew about it but no one did anything about it,” commented Mr. Cuomo whose office has been pursuing the scandal The Times exposed.

The attorney general will likely bring criminal charges. What the feds do remains to be seen. This might be too much to hope for, but those higher-ups at the LIRR, the MTA and the Railroad Retirement Board should be held equally responsible, and also be “brought to justice,” along with the LIRR workers who were involved in the scam. They are liable for allowing it, despite the information Ms. Porcelain transmitted, to continue and continue before a newspaper broke the story.

And it was not just engineers and yard workers but executives and office workers, too—almost all the LIRR’s retirees—who joined in the scam.

Fundamental change and action against all those involved—from the bottom to the middle right to the top—is called for to deal with this huge outrage.