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Town: Clean up 'potentially catastrophic danger' at Yaphank's Brookhaven Rail Terminal

This aerial image, provided by the Town of

This aerial image, provided by the Town of Brookhaven, shows the Brookhaven Rail Terminal site, left, in Yaphank on May 2014. Credit: Town of Brookhaven

The Town of Brookhaven has demanded an immediate cleanup of debris dumped at the Brookhaven Rail Terminal in Yaphank, calling the situation a "potentially catastrophic danger" to the underground water supply.

Lawyers for the town said in court papers filed this week in U.S. District Court in Central Islip that a report from its expert, unrebutted by the rail operators, found contaminated fill that was illegally dumped on the site.

The town said it would seek to separate the dumping issue from zoning, sand mining and other matters in its continuing litigation with the terminal, and seek a court order on the cleanup.

A lawyer for the rail terminal, Kevin Mulry, said in an April 17 letter to the court that he would respond at the next court session on May 1. A spokeswoman for the terminal, Judy White, declined to comment Wednesday, saying: "We do not intend to litigate this in the news media."

The rail terminal opened on a 28-acre site in 2011 with a promise of taking heavy trucks off Long Island roads by increasing the shipment of goods by rail freight.

But it has since expanded and has gotten into a protracted legal and regulatory battle with the town over whether it is exempt from local zoning and environmental rules because it is part of a federally regulated railroad facility.

Magistrate Judge Gary R. Brown, who is handling the litigation, barred the terminal last June from further sand mining on the site because of the risk to the aquifer, and rejected its claim that it was only expanding its rail system.

"The evidence presented indisputably demonstrates that defendants have engaged in wholesale mining of the parcels entirely independent of any rail construction development," the judge ruled.

An attorney retained by the town, Robert Calica of Garden City, said in an April 20 letter to the judge that he wanted to separate the dumping from other issues because of the need to remove the dumped material "immediately."

He said 12,000 to 15,000 cubic yards of "New York City Historic Fill" was dumped on the site, and contaminants have leached into the soil and come within 10 feet of the aquifer. Such fill usually consists of municipal garbage, including burned garbage, and was historically used to fill in low-lying areas of New York City, he said.

A report prepared by a town environmental consultant, Stephanie O. Davis of FPM Group of Ronkonkoma, said the fill at the site included brick fragments, ceramic materials, shells, cinders and asphalt.

"The historic fill, if left on-site and not covered, has the potential to adversely impact groundwater quality," Davis wrote in a March 23 letter to Calica that was included in the court filing.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has referred the possible illegal dumping and sand mining on the site to the Suffolk County district attorney, officials said last June.

The district attorney's office declined to comment Wednesday, except to say it was an ongoing investigation.

Brookhaven Rail Terminal has said it conducted its own testing on the materials, but it has refused Newsday's request to see the results.

Calica said in the court filing that the terminal has not responded to his request to name their testing consultant and provide him with the consultant's findings.

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