New York is pockmarked with contaminated land. Long Island is no exception. What sets us apart from other parts of the state is our relative lack of success in cleansing these sites.
And the consequences of failure are worse here, because our toxic sites sit on top of the water we drink -- our aquifer.
That's why it's so disappointing that efforts to reform the much-criticized state brownfield cleanup program have failed -- at least for now. The State Legislature last week passed a 15-month extension of the program, now due to expire in 2015. Supporters say developers need to know tax credits will be available before they enter the program; credits are earned when cleanups are finished and the 2015 deadline is too tight for many projects. But many credits have gone to projects, like luxury hotels and malls, that had more to do with economic development than cleaning toxic sites. Extension without reform just perpetuates the problem.
The legislation did add $100 million to the state's Superfund program, a very good thing. But it did not include money to continue another program that allows residents to help devise cleanup plans and redevelopment opportunities for areas with multiple contaminated sites. That program guides developers to design projects the community wants. Without funding, promising efforts in Hicksville and Riverhead will come to a halt, others will never start, and developers will not be able to get associated bonus tax credits, an enticing incentive.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who proposed reforms earlier this year but never reached agreement on them with the legislature, said Tuesday he would sign the legislation. He should not. Real reform is urgently needed and should not be delayed, as it inevitably would be, by an extension.
On Long Island, hundreds of toxic waste sites have been identified, but more than 2,000 still need to be evaluated. Cleaning and redeveloping these sites protects water, puts properties back on the tax rolls and eliminates eyesores. The governor and state lawmakers must reform the cleanup program so it does just that.