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Big trucks bill supported by Zeldin, contrary to aide’s statements at Riverhead meeting last night

Congressman Lee Zeldin speaks at a press conference announcing healthcare for veterans in May. File photo: Katie Blasl

The possibility of 84-foot-long double-trailer trucks barreling down local roads was an issue of concern among community leaders yesterday, but a representative of Congressman Lee Zeldin assured them last night that Zeldin would do whatever he could to stop it.

“There is no way we would support that,” Mark Woolley, Zeldin’s district director, told the meeting of civic association leaders when they asked him about the bill. “You all know where the Congressman stands on that.”

But Zeldin did support the bill that would allow such trucks on the East End. When it went before the House of Representatives last month, Zeldin voted “yes” in a narrow 216-210 vote.

Woolley, when confronted with this information by a reporter after last night’s meeting, refused to answer any additional questions.

“You’ll have to call the communications director,” he said.

The bill allows for trucks up to 84 feet long, which is the size of an eight story building turned on its side.
The bill would allow trucks like this 82-foot-long tanker on roads in the national highway system, which includes parts of Sound Avenue, Route 25 and the Long Island Expressway.

The bill in question is part of a special class of legislation called appropriations bills, which are passed annually to approve spending on things like education, national defense and agriculture.

This particular appropriations bill approves funding for the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) agencies in the 2016 fiscal year, which begins in October.

But it also contains many unrelated pieces of legislation, such as the controversial provision that increases the permitted length of twin-tractor trailers by almost 20 feet and overrides preexisting length limits set by 39 states, including New York.

The bill would allow multi-trailer trucks up to 84 feet long on roads in the federal national highway system network, which includes a route through the East End.

If the bill passes the Senate, tandem tractor-trailers up to 84 feet long would be allowed to travel from the Long Island Expressway to Route 58, where they would turn left onto Northville Turnpike and head toward Sound Avenue. The trucks would then make a right-hand turn from Northville Turnpike onto Sound Avenue and head east until Sound Avenue becomes Route 48 and eventually turns into Route 25.

The national highway system route continues east all the way to Orient Point.

2015_0727_federal_highway_system_road

“If there was a separate vote on the trucking proposal, I would have voted no,” Zeldin said in an email this afternoon. “Every single budget proposal I have been presented with during my four years in the New York State Senate and now in the United States Congress has included something I wished wasn’t in the bill.”

He pointed out that the bill included his own amendment to prevent the Federal Aviation Administration from taking action against East Hampton Town for its recent enactment of noise restrictions.

“So if I voted no, then you could be reaching out to me asking why I voted against [that],” Zeldin said. “Instead of 535 members of Congress, if you and I were the only ones who got to write the entire federal budget, I am very confident it would look very differently and would be nearly perfectly to our liking.”

Thirty-one Republicans departed from the Republican party line to vote against the bill last month, several of which had their own amendments struck from the bill. Zeldin was not one of them.

“That’s how Congress works,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter. “Sometimes, they attach unpalatable provisions onto bills that must be passed.”

Even though the bill will override current state limits on truck length, it does allow states to request exemptions for segments of roads affected by the bill if they aren’t capable of safely accommodating trucks of that size. States could formally apply for such exemptions to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, which would review the request and perform an analysis to see if it is justified.

“We would absolutely get on top of the state to seek an exemption,” said Walter.

Zeldin did not respond to a question about why his district director publicly assured community leaders yesterday that their congressman did not support the bill.

“It’s unconscionable to have a representative from a congressional office lie to the public,” said Angela DeVito, president of the Jamesport/South Jamesport Civic Association. “This raises the question of the veracity of what comes out of Lee Zeldin’s office in the future.

“Are we all going to spend time doing fact-checking every time he claims he’s doing something?” she said. “That’s just sad.”

“[Woolley] was very, very clear that they were going to help us,” said Neil Krupnick, president of the Northville Civic Association. “Lee put in an amendment for the FAA, but he didn’t put in an amendment for the trucks. He decided to pick his battles. But I’m disappointed that Mark said he supports our efforts when he’s picking his battles and not getting on board with this one.”

When Mike Foley, president of Sound Park Heights Civic Association, was told by a reporter that Zeldin voted for the bill, he burst out laughing.

“A new congressman has apparently learned very quickly that flip-flopping is the way of doing business in Washington,” Foley said. “It seems like [Woolley] was sitting there listening and trying to figure out the best thing to say. Which is something I really despise about politicians.”

“Even if he was backed into a corner and there was no way a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote would get what you wanted to accomplish, his representative should have explained that to us,” DeVito said. “He should have told us the truth.”

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Katie Blasl
Katie, winner of the 2016 James Murphy Cub Reporter of the Year award from the L.I. Press Club, is a reporter, editor and web developer for the LOCAL news websites. A Riverhead native, she is a 2014 graduate of Stony Brook University. Email Katie