People living near three of the four Suffolk properties where tons of contaminated construction debris were dumped by two men who pleaded guilty last week agreed on a primary goal: They want the sites returned to normalcy.
At a one-acre site on Islip Avenue in Central Islip, nearby residents said that will only happen when the contaminated fill is removed.
Near an Islandia development for returning war veterans and their families, the debris is gone but residents worry about long-term health effects. And at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood, where debris has also been removed, people living close by want the facility reopened and its remodeling project completed.
“I’m glad they took full responsibility. They need to serve some kind of penalty,” said Brentwood resident Lisa Jenkins, 37, a full-time journalism student who lives across the street from the still-closed Roberto Clemente Park, one of the dumping sites. “I’m just so disgusted. It just goes to show you the kind of people we have in our society that do these things, put people’s health in danger, just to make money.”
Waqar Shah, 44, who works in information technology, purchased a home on Nolin Street across from the park in 2008. A fence and a narrow roadway separate his front lawn from the soccer fields, one of the two areas where dumping occurred.
“I don’t care if they go to jail, I don’t know the legal side of all of this,” Shah said. “But whoever is responsible for this, they need to give us our park and pool back. That park was the reason I bought this house, for my four kids to have somewhere to play.”
Thomas Datre Jr. and his company, 5 Brothers Farming Corp., pleaded guilty Wednesday in State Supreme Court in Central Islip to several charges, including endangering the public health, safety or the environment, a Class E felony; and for dumping tens of thousands of tons of hazardous construction and demolition materials across the park and at Veterans Way in Islandia, where the affordable homes were built for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans; the 1-acre plot on Islip Avenue in Central Islip; and a sensitive wetlands area abutting industrial businesses in Deer Park.
Datre Jr.’s guilty plea led prosecutors to drop the charges against his father, Thomas Datre Sr., who had been accused of directing and allowing his son to dump tainted debris in Islandia.
Christopher Grabe, of Islandia Recycling, who acted as Datre Jr.’s foreman during the dumping scheme that took place from 2012-14, pleaded guilty Wednesday to two felonies.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho deferred their sentences, ordering them to help with cleanup efforts at the Central Islip site and the wetlands in Deer Park — the two locations where debris remains — and with the rehabilitation of Clemente Park to aid in its reopening.
If they show “good faith” in their efforts, Datre Jr. faces between 1 and 3 years in prison, and Grabe will be sentenced to 6 months behind bars and 5 years’ probation, Camacho said.
At Veterans Way, Sgt. Eric Petry said the parents on his cul-de-sac are worried about the elevated levels of contaminants found in their children’s blood.
“At least Datre Jr. is getting punished for what he did, but I’m upset that the charges against Datre Sr. were dropped because as far as our stance goes, Datre Jr. wasn’t connected to this project at all at first until his dad told him about it,” said Petry, 30, who plans to put his house up for sale.
Juanita Jett, 54, who lives a half-block from the Islip Avenue site at Sage Street and Tree Avenue, said she’s thankful the debris will be removed after she and her neighbors endured months of concrete-crushing activity at the site.
“Going to jail won’t solve anything,” Jett said. “They put our lives at risk, the community’s children at risk. We had that dust flying around here for months. I’m sorry they have to do time for it, but I’m glad that they took responsibility now and will clean it up.”