Investigators with the Suffolk County district attorney's office Thursday took samples from debris dumped into a sensitive wetland area on the Islip-Babylon border where it's believed contaminated material from a Brentwood park was brought last January.
The sampling at the rear of 175 Brook Ave., in Deer Park, which flanks Sampawams Creek, took almost five hours. Staff from Enviroscience Consultants, working for the district attorney, used hand-cranked augers to collect samples from a brownish-gray colored berm on the wetland side of the rear property line -- as well as from two other piles at the site.
The berm slopes steeply more than 15 feet down toward the creek, a state Department of Environmental Conservation-protected wetland that forms part of the watershed into Great South Bay. In places, trunks of tree saplings that before the dumping were exposed are buried up to 15 feet.
Thursday's testing would help answer questions surrounding a Jan. 24-26 partial cleanup of Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood. On those days, according to Kevin Kearon, the attorney for Tom Datre Jr., his client's firm DFF Farms Corp., removed 45 truckloads of fill from the park at the request of Islip officials. Town officials have said several times since they did not know where that fill was taken.
Last week, while announcing the results of hazardous-material testing at the Brentwood park and a privately owned site on Islip Avenue in Central Islip, District Attorney Thomas Spota said the debris discovered at Brook Avenue in mid-May was placed there by the same people responsible for dumping at the two Islip locations.
"We have connected the materials there to the same individual and entities involved in the illegal dumping at the other sites in the Town of Islip," Spota said.
Babylon officials who visited the property May 16 said afterward it appeared the dumping into the wetland had occurred within the prior two weeks. Babylon's chief environmental analyst, Richard Groh, described the dumping as "on its face . . . a major wetlands violation."
The creek is protected under New York State DEC Freshwater Wetlands Regulations, which make it a civil violation to place any fill in the area. If the fill is found to contain a regulated solid waste material, such as construction and demolition, or hazardous waste, other violations could be pursued, officials said.
The criminal probe, launched April 8, is in its third month. Investigators expect to receive analysis next week of a sampling taken from a fourth site -- the Veterans Way housing community for six families in Hauppauge -- as they try to determine how many other dumping sites might be related to what occurred at Roberto Clemente park.
Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), a sedimentologist who teaches Long Island natural history at Stony Brook University, said dumping -- "even of completely inert, perfectly clean material" -- into a wetland system, such as the creek, would result in "a serious and permanent insult to the ecology of the stream system."
"If, in addition, it is toxic material, as certainly appears possible in this case, then the degree of environmental destruction is very seriously compounded," he said.
"You could not find a worse place to find contaminated fill," he added. Toxins could be rapidly spread from the dump site via the stream, dispersing contaminants into other parts of the wetland, he said. Gerard Glass, a Babylon attorney who represents the Brook Avenue property owners, said they were "horrible victims of circumstance," who rely on the property income "to live day-to-day."
"My clients are an 85-year-old widow and her 55-year-old handicapped daughter who were taken advantage of by a tenant, who allowed a third party to come in and dump this material without my clients' permission."