The owner of a Central Islip property where Suffolk authorities say contaminated fill was illegally dumped is suing a politically connected Islip family and others it contends are behind the scheme.
The lawsuit comes two weeks after state environmental authorities filed their own motion demanding the property owner clean up the site.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, in a legal motion filed March 16, requested an administrative law judge order L-C Real Estate Group LLC of Smithtown "immediately" to remove as much as 35,000 cubic yards of contaminated fill piled on the roughly 1-acre parcel at the corner of Islip Avenue and Sage Street or face a penalty of at least $100,000.
The agency says L-C Real Estate Group has violated state environmental law by operating a solid-waste management facility without authorization, disposing of solid waste without authorization, or both.
The fill, which an October report commissioned by the property owner found to contain hydrocarbons, metals and pesticides, is a threat to the groundwater and the surrounding community, according to a memorandum of law signed by DEC assistant regional attorney David Rubinton.
The owner, whose managing member is Tommy Lau, must respond to the motion by April 22.
Recovering cost of cleanup
The civil suit L-C Real Estate Group filed in state Supreme Court in Suffolk County on Friday names four individuals and 10 companies it claims are responsible for the dumping -- including seven indicted in December by Suffolk County in connection with the dumping scheme.
"Generally speaking, property owners are responsible to clean up whatever mess is on their property," said Peter Bee of Mineola, an attorney for L-C Real Estate Group. "We instituted the lawsuit so that we can try to recover from the responsible parties the cost of any cleanup for which we might be held liable."
The suit names three Datre family members -- Thomas Datre Sr., his wife, Clara Datre, and their son, Thomas Datre Jr. -- and nine companies connected with the Datres: Datre Auto and Equipment Sales, Datre Trucking and Farming, 5 Brothers Farming Corp. and DFF Farm Corp., all in Middleburgh, N.Y., and Ronkonkoma-based Datre Family Farms, Datre Farms Realty Co., Daytree at Cortland Square, Daytree Construction Co. and Daytree Custom Builders.
Kevin Kearon of Garden City, the lawyer for Thomas Datre Jr., called the allegations in the suit "frivolous" and said his client "conducted himself lawfully and responsibly at all times. Any claims to the contrary will be belied by the facts we look forward to demonstrating in court."
Andrew Campanelli of Merrick, who represents Daytree at Cortland Square along with longtime Islip GOP and Conservative Party donors Thomas Datre Sr. and Clara Datre, said the suit was baseless.
"There is not so much as one iota of merit to the claims," he said. "Neither Mr. or Mrs. Datre nor their company delivered anything to the property which is the subject of this action."
The suit also names Ronald Cianciulli and his company, Atlas Home Improvement Corp. of Long Island, the parent company of Atlas Asphalt, as defendants.
"There is no legal or factual basis for including either Mr. Cianciulli or Atlas Asphalt in this lawsuit," said John Carman, the Garden City attorney representing Cianciulli and his company. "We don't have anything to do with that property."
Dumping called large-scale
The suit alleges Thomas Datre Jr. began "a large-scale operation of dumping fill and construction debris" on the property after getting permission in 2009 from Lau to store construction equipment at the site.
Thomas Datre Jr., whom Suffolk prosecutors said was the "mastermind" of a dumping scheme that stretched across Islip and Babylon, allegedly teamed up with his parents, his family's companies and Atlas and Cianciulli on the dumping, the suit said.
The defendants avoided "at least $50,000 in disposal and trucking fees for which they had accepted payment" by dumping at the site, according to the suit.
Ultimately, between 25,000 and 35,000 cubic yards of construction and demolition debris and contaminated soil, primarily from New York City, ended up on the property.
The cost of properly disposing of the fill is estimated to be between $1.4 million and $3 million, according to the suit, which seeks damages from the defendants of at least $3 million. The Central Islip parcel is one of four locations named by the Suffolk County district attorney where alleged illegal dumping of contaminated fill took place.
Thomas Datre Jr., Thomas Datre Sr., Cianciulli, alleged Datre employee Christopher Grabe and two former Islip Town officials, along with four Datre family companies, were named in the district attorney's indictment. All the defendants have pleaded not guilty.
L-C Real Estate Group's suit says Lau discovered "large quantities of debris had been dumped on the property" in October 2011, when Thomas Datre Jr. admitted to dumping fill and construction debris there.
Lau demanded Thomas Datre Jr. remove the fill, and he agreed, according to the suit. But 2 1/2 years later, the suit alleges, Lau discovered "even more debris had been dumped on the property."
Lau had a meeting at the site on April 18, 2014, with an Islip Town fire marshal and Grabe, the suit said. The fire marshal issued Lau's company 14 appearance tickets for violations at the site in 2014. The suit says Grabe asked that the tickets be issued to himself instead.
Grabe's attorney, Alia Richards of Sayville, said she was "not in a position to confirm or deny" that allegation, pointing out that Grabe was not a named defendant in the civil suit.
Site covered in debris
The material at the site -- sand, silt-containing rock and construction and demolition debris that included brick, concrete, asphalt and ceramic tile -- covered about two-thirds of the property and was piled 20 to 25 feet high, according to the October report by C.A. Rich Consultants of Plainview, the firm hired by L-C Real Estate Group to investigate and characterize the fill at the site.
The fill, which the consultant said likely originated at multiple construction and demolition sites in an urbanized area such as New York City, appeared to be "nonhazardous, regulated waste" and contained hydrocarbons, pesticides, lead and mercury.
Some of the samples tested above state standards for the protection of groundwater, leading the consultant to conclude the fill likely will require disposal off Long Island.
Nassau and Suffolk counties are in a federally designated sole-source aquifer region, meaning the Island's nearly 3 million residents rely solely on groundwater as a source of drinking water.
The water table is about 35 feet below the surface at the site, the report said.
The Suffolk County Department of Health Services said county lawyers are negotiating with lawyers for L-C Real Estate Group to get access to the property to begin drilling test wells to determine whether the groundwater has been affected by the fill.
The department said it has been conducting "daily surveillance" of the site, ensuring the area is fenced and dust-suppression measures are in place.
The DEC's legal filing said L-C Real Estate Group has declined a request to remove the fill.
In a Nov. 25 letter to C.A. Rich senior associate Richard Izzo, the DEC said the fill needed to be disposed of off Long Island and asked that the owner of the property submit a plan for removing and disposing of the debris within 30 days.
"We are in conversation with the DEC and hope to come up with a reasonable conclusion," Bee said.
The DEC has been aware of the dumping at the site since July 2013, according to a document accompanying the agency's legal motion.
DEC environmental engineer Pappachan Daniel said in an affidavit his office received an anonymous complaint on July 25, 2013, alleging illegal dumping was taking place at the site.
Daniel went to the property the next day and saw soil mixed with bricks, concrete, wood, tile and rocks piled 12 to 15 feet high, according to the affidavit.
DEC records showed no permits for a solid-waste management facility at the site, Daniel wrote in the March 10 affidavit. The agency issued a notice of violation to L-C Real Estate Group on July 31.