From where we stand, we can see a basketball court.
And brightly colored playground equipment.
And also some vestige of contaminated landfill, the discovery of which, two years ago, abruptly caused Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood to be shut down.
Four years ago, there were piles of debris at the back of the park, along with tainted landfill spread through other sections of the one-acre area. On Friday, all that remained of the piles were close-cropped circles of dead, brown grass.
Last week, two former Islip town employees pleaded guilty to charges stemming from Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota’s investigation into the illegal dumping.
Former parks Commissioner Joseph J. Montuori Jr. and his former secretary, Brett A. Robinson, were among six individuals named in a December 2014 indictment stemming from dumping at the park and three other sites in and around Islip Town from 2012 to 2014. Montouri’s and Robinson’s trials are the last.
Sentencing is yet to come.
But do the guilty pleas end the matter? No, say some residents living on Timberline Drive, which runs parallel to the back of the park.
“They’re just the scapegoats,” said Fern Rostas, 69, whose house sits some 300 feet from a portion of weed-choked fence surrounding the back of the still-shuttered park. “Does anyone really think we’re going to believe that responsibility didn’t go higher?” she said. “As far as I am concerned, the entire town board should have stepped down.”
Rostas looked through the fence, near the soccer fields, to the empty basketball court and playground equipment.
More than two years ago, before the park was closed and cleaned, dust from the site seeped into everything. And left many of the neighbors — and some of their pets, including one of Rostas’ cats — coughing.
The dust is gone now. And so are a few of Rostas’ neighbors, who decided to move on rather than deal with the mess. “I thought the park was clean,” she said. “When is it going to open?”
Angie Carpenter, who became Islip’s supervisor after the park was closed, said Friday that she could set no date for reopening. But she said the town last week received permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to begin the next phase of restoration — which will involve seeking a vendor to bring clean fill into the park, under state supervision.
“That park is priority one for Islip,” Carpenter said.
Does that include funding to reopen the park’s pool, which has been shuttered for years?
Yes, Carpenter said, the town also is working toward that goal.
Even while considering the future, it remains essential to consider what happened in the park’s past, which became painfully clear during an exchange last week between State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho and Montuori about the illegal dumping.
“In your position with the town, you did not meet your responsibility to make sure that was stopped,” the judge said. “You permitted it to continue. You were aware and consciously disregarded ... a substantial and unjustifiable risk that those hazardous substances would be released. Is that true?”
“Yes, your honor” Montouri said.
In short, the town, through Montouri and others, abdicated one of its key responsibilities — keeping the community safe.
That’s the bottom-line shame in the case, which will require substantial movement on Islip’s part to wash away.