BY YVETTE BROWN
Last Thursday, City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) held a rally to call on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to keep a promise that Community Board 2 claims was made to install noise mitigation barriers as part of the East Side Access project in Sunnyside, but a spokesperson from the MTA said that promises were never made.
The East Side Access is a project set to begin Long Island Rail Road service to Grand Central Terminal along with adding new service. The $10.2 billion project is expected to open in 2022.
“The East Side Access Environmental Impact Statement, which was created through the project’s definitive public engagement process, evaluated the impacts of post-construction train service and determined that the increase in noise would not be perceptible in comparison to existing train noise, and that physical barriers attract graffiti and create shadows and public safety concerns, in addition to being generally ineffective at reducing sound in this location,” said Aaron Donovan, a spokesperson for the MTA. “The MTA therefore decided not to provide sound barriers as mitigation for the East Side Access project at completion.”
Donovan continued, “The construction of a barrier, or vegetation on chain link fencing, would not be effective in reducing noise in the area, it would be potentially dangerous to yard workers, trains, and their passengers, and would create other adverse impacts.”
Both Van Bramer and CB 2, are not happy with the response. CB 2’s chairperson, Patrick O’Brien, stated that they made a promise in the beginning and now there are no efforts to find other options to soften the sound.
“The MTA is being deceitful. It’s clear that the residents of Sunnyside and Woodside want a noise attenuation barrier, and the MTA has promised such a barrier on numerous occasions over the past eight years. It’s time for the MTA to keep their promise and build a barrier to protect residents from intolerable noise,” said Van Bramer.
“Several years ago, there were a number of conversations with the MTA about concerns over noise that not only would there be additional trains, but those trains would be traveling closer to homes in Sunnyside. We expressed grave concern over that and discussed with them at great length how the noise could be mitigated and reduced. Those discussions absolutely included the possibility of a wall or fence and absolutely included the discussion of plantings to soften and mitigate the sound. It is absolutely indisputable in our records and in the recollection of every member of Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee that the MTA promised us that they would implement sound attenuating measures, including plantings,” said O’Brien.
But Donovan said, “[From] 2007 to 2008, we hired a team of environmental engineering consultants, AKRF, to conduct additional noise studies and modeling. They reinforced the findings of the Environmental Impact Statement. We presented these facts to the Community Board in May 2008. In October 2008, we returned to Community Board 2 in a meeting attended by future Council Member Van Bramer. As recorded in the minutes posted on Community Board 2’s website, the Board Chair said the community was not in favor of a sound barrier, and the MTA informed the community board that we were not in a position to build one.”
In fact, in the minutes provided on CB 2’s website, at the time Joseph Conley had been the chair, it says, “The LIRR and the MTA are not in a position to commit to building the sound walls behind the garages on Barnett Ave. but are in a position to add vegetation. Conley stated residents of the area do not want sound walls. There have been many meetings discussing this item. There were concerns of graffiti.”
And a source from the MTA, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that the MTA did in fact make it clear that they would look into building a barrier, but no promises were made.
O’Brien said that for a while after that meeting, the board hadn’t heard back from the MTA, but, “We brought them back into a meeting in February or March of this year and initially they said that they were not going to do anything and the reason that they gave was because it was not in the budget.”
“We were very upset and told them ‘no you said you were going to take measures to do this.’ They did not have an answer, they said no they didn’t. We insisted that they go get us answers and come back to a second Land Use Committee meeting. They came back with two representatives and that was the first time we heard from them [and] that they had considered that these measures would not be effective to reduce sound,” said O’Brien.
At the rally last week, O’Brien also stated that at the aforementioned meeting, there was the discussion of bike racks and benches that could be used as barriers to soften the noise, but Donovan responded, “In our recent communications with the Community Board, we never intended community members to come away with the impression that bike racks or benches could serve as noise reduction measures. We merely offered those amenities and others such as lighting and tree planting in the community in lieu of barriers or fencing. We hoped these alternatives would be well received by the community.”
It was stated by a source that the MTA is always thinking about the safety and adding the type of walls or fences and vegetation requested by Van Bramer would sacrifice safety, and is not something they will entertain. Sunnyside Yard is an open environment. A sound barrier would be open at the top. To effectively baffle noise, you would need a multi-story wall – the type of thing that in most communities has been criticized as an eyesore.
While there seems to be no resolution between CB 2 and the MTA regarding the sound barriers, O’Brien said they will keep fighting to get the barriers by going through elected officials, like Van Bramer.
“We’re trying to work through our electeds and otherwise to get them to do something,” said O’Brien. “The MTA is very different from any agency that I’ve ever dealt with, they just do whatever they want to do and in this instance, they are demonstrably wrong in this [and] they are not telling the truth.”
Reach Yvette Brown at (718)357-7400 ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @eveywrites.