Islip Town residents to sue over illegal dumping

Hauppauge resident Stephen D'Giff, right, with attorney Kenneth Hauppauge resident Stephen D'Giff, right, with attorney Kenneth M. Mollins, speaks about the notice of claim filed against the Town of Islip for alleged negligence in allowing toxic dumping to occur on residents' land in various areas of the town, at Mollins' law office in Hauppauge on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Three homeowners took the first legal steps this week to sue the Town of Islip and the Village of Islandia by filing notices of claim charging that negligence by local officials caused toxic waste to be dumped, lowering their property values and putting their health at risk.

Officials acted with "willful blindness . . . [they] either didn't look, or they looked the other way or looked and didn't see" what was going on, attorney Kenneth M. Mollins of Hauppauge, who represents homeowners Edward Valle of Brentwood, Belgia Garzon of Central Islip and Stephen D'Giff of Hauppauge said at a news conference Wednesday.

The notices of claim are a required step before a lawsuit can be brought.

D'Giff, 71, a retired New York City teacher and administrator, said he was "scared" when news first broke of the dumping at the six-home subdivision on Veterans Way in Islandia, about a mile from his home.

"I have five grandchildren," he said while holding back tears. "I'm concerned about their health when they come to my house."

Groundwater at the Islandia site feeds into a nearby well, where the hazardous materials could show up in 25 years, Suffolk County Water Authority officials have said. Garzon lives around the corner from a contaminated, privately owned site on Islip Avenue at Sage Street and Valle's home is three blocks from town-owned Roberto Clemente Park.

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All three sites have confirmed toxic pesticides and heavy metals. Similar toxic materials also were found at a fourth dump site at the Islip-Babylon town line, but this site was not mentioned in the claims. The Suffolk County district attorney launched a criminal investigation into the dumping in early April.

The cleanup cannot begin until a remediation plan is approved by numerous state and county agencies, including the state Department of Environmental Conservation. It is expected to be submitted by the town to the DEC by late August.

The legal action is being brought on behalf of the three residents as well as "all other similarly situated homeowners in the Town of Islip," according to the claim, and seeks "compensatory, consequential and punitive damages" to be determined.

An Islip Town official said it had not received the notice as of Wednesday.

"While the Town is learning about this claim through news media and not from any law firm, we have not been served any notice of claim to date, and we will react accordingly if such a claim is properly served in the future," said Inez Birbiglia, deputy commissioner of town parks.

Village of Islandia Mayor Allan Dorman said he has neither seen nor heard of the notice of claim, but added: "The village wasn't negligent in any way."

County health officials have said the public-health risk for contamination from the dumping is low, while acknowledging it is impossible to know the health threat while the dumping was going on. The Suffolk County Water Authority has said the public drinking water around the sites under investigation is safe, for now.

"Everybody in the Town of Islip is pointing fingers at other people. Everybody in the town is saying it's his fault, it's her fault, it's their fault," Mollins said. "It's all of their fault because they allowed this to happen."

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With John Valenti

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