Officials push Suffolk park survey for illegal dumping

Emily C. Dooley

Suffolk authorities are pushing to survey county parkland in search of illegal dumping while they establish a network of residents to watch for suspicious activity in their parks.

The announcement came in Hauppauge Tuesday after the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Brookhaven Town confirmed Monday an investigation into who dumped vinyl siding, crushed concrete, pulverized glass, a monster truck tire, household furniture and other items in several spots at Tanglewood Park in Coram, which is owned by Brookhaven Town.

The site was discovered after a resident called Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), prompting her to go to the park late last year and notify the town, state and Suffolk County district attorney about the debris she found. The DA investigated but declined to take action, saying the debris appeared to have been dumped over the years.

Hahn said she has introduced legislation to establish a parks watch program that would recruit and encourage residents to watch for and report suspicious activity. It would be modeled after police community watch programs.

“Folks have clearly been systematically dumping, not just dumping but digging holes and covering it up,” Hahn said during a news conference in Hauppauge Tuesday at the Suffolk County Legislature.

Separately, Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory said he has introduced a bill that directs the county parks department to survey parkland for illegal dumping.

The county has more than 70 parks covering 46,000 acres and the surveys would be done only at spots accessible by trucks, the bill says.

“We are sending the message that we are concerned about parks,” Gregory said, “and we believe our parks are vulnerable to this type of dumping.”

Gregory submitted the bill in late 2016 but tabled it to include input from the park department. It should be brought up again in March. An exact list of affected parks is still being created, he said.

The two bills, if passed, would complement each other, the legislators said. “We need to know what’s there, clean it up and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Hahn said.

Attempts to reach Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone about the legislation were not successful.

Brookhaven Town on Monday said it would clean up the debris at Tanglewood and turn the case over to its law department. The state Department of Environmental Conservation also said it was investigating.

Law enforcement said the Tanglewood case is more akin to residential dumping than commercial operations uncovered in past years in Melville and Brentwood.

Portions of West Hills County Park in Melville near the Sweet Hills Riding Center were closed last year after officials found evidence of finely-processed construction and demolition debris. Soil samples contained metals, volatile organic chemicals, asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBS. The investigation is ongoing.

In early 2014, authorities closed Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood after nearly 40,000 tons of construction and demolition debris was found. Authorities said the waste — containing asbestos, metals, pesticides, PCBs and other toxics — had been trucked in from New York City. Four other, connected illegal dumping sites in Islip Town were subsequently uncovered.

Six people were indicted. Thomas Datre Jr., Christopher Grabe, Joseph J. Montuori Jr. and Brett A. Robinson pleaded guilty last year to a variety of felony charges, including dumping contaminated materials. Ronald Cianciulli was found guilty of two felonies and two misdemeanors after a bench trial. Charges against Thomas Datre Sr. were dropped.

On Friday Hahn is hosting a roundtable in Brentwood to discuss dumping issues regionally. Parks officials, politicians and environmentalists have been invited. “It is clear to me that we are really scratching the surface of what seems to be a regionwide parks issue,” Hahn said.