By Michelle Karim and Jakub Lewkowicz
As a lone FedEx truck trundled down the narrow road, the traffic light turned red and the vehicle came to a screeching halt. The street was aglow with incandescent light pouring from the tiny windows of the houses lining both sides of the street. A lone man walked on the opposite side of the street which is now barren except the neatly mowed grass by the pavement.
The light turned green and the truck sped off along South Oyster Bay Road.
“I came from Manhattan [one day] and every tree had white spray painted ‘X’ on them,” Tanya Lukasik remembered. The marked trees were lined down the South Oyster Bay Road. This detail set off sirens in her head, and Lukasik began to look into the matter over the summer, this year. Today the trees are gone from South Oyster Bay Road.
Lukasik established a group named “Operation STOMP” to push against legislation that would get rid of trees lining the South Oyster Bay Road and broaden it in order to designate it as an access highway. The efforts were fruitless.
Trucking activity has picked up in the last few months, and about 200 trees were cut down along the road, according to Lukasik’s independent findings.
Access highways allow 48-foot truck limit to exceed to allow 53-foot trucks and tandem trucks. And residents are worried about potential environmental and noise pollution.
“Residents in the community, educational and religious institutions, as well as the town and county governments are against this,” Rich Murdocco, a digital marketing analyst for a Long Island-based Credit Union who also writes regularly about regional land use issues said.
“All of our group is within the area of town of Oyster Bay. We documented every single tree and took pictures of every slab of sidewalk. The County is home to 480 miles worth of county roads, many lined with decades-old trees,” Lukasik said, adding that all the STOMPers were taken aback at the conversion of road into a highway.
While residents are opposed to the idea of the highway, some are more concerned about the removal of trees.
“I don’t think it’s much of a problem because it is closer to route 135 and the traffic is much slower,” Norman Rubin, 54, a resident of Nassau County, said. Rubin heard about the conversion of the South Oyster Bay Road into an access highway on the news. “I am a tree lover. It was a horrible loss, a horrible bloodbath. They didn’t respect the character of the community,” Rubin said.
Federal Express applied for the access highway designation for South Oyster Bay Road with the New York State Department of Transportation in December 2014.
Malcolm Bowman, a distinguished service professor of the Stony Brook School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences pointed out that this incident is “part of a bigger problem” of overdevelopment in areas. “We are lucky where we are. Nicolls Road is a Suffolk county road and it has got foliage on both sides and we should never take that for granted,” Bowman said.
Between September and October of last year, Lukasik took the issue to the court, but the case was pushed back multiple times.
Lukasik’s “Operation STOMP” is set to become a non-profit organization and has gained around 1400 members on Facebook. “We are definitely working together with local officials and municipalities to preserve the greenery across the county at risk, and advocate for tree planting and sustainable infrastructure. We have also taken on the access road highway fight,” Lukasik added.