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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

News of park cleanup sparks optimism, skepticism in Brentwood

Active Cleanup Site signs hang on the gates

Active Cleanup Site signs hang on the gates to Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood on Sept. 13, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Brentwood residents got some good news when Islip Town officials and an environmental consultant reported last week that Roberto Clemente Park has been cleaned up.

Test results show that soil samples taken from the park after the debris was removed showed almost no tainted residue.

Also, the cleanup was completed a few weeks early -- and under budget -- Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter said Monday.

But that doesn't mean the park, which was shut down after debris was discovered in spring 2014, will reopen soon.

The town has to forward its report on the cleanup to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which will review and hand back a plan the town will have to follow to remediate the property.

And although the town -- after a rough start following discovery of the debris -- has launched an aggressive effort to keep residents informed of the cleanup's progress, a few remained skeptical.

"Do they need to remove some of those trees?" Aggie Gonzalez, who can see the park from her home, wondered Monday. She recalled that at the time of the dumping she could see material that had been "pushed up around some of the trees by payloaders."

Assemb. Phil Ramos -- who, with Suffolk Legis. Monica Martinez, early on pushed town officials to move on the cleanup -- said he was "cautiously optimistic about the news that the park has been cleaned."

However, he and some other residents still are considering asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate how so much toxic waste contaminated material ended up in a majority black and Hispanic neighborhood.

"This is not over yet," said Ramos, who like Martinez is a Brentwood Democrat.

Meanwhile, some homeowners adjacent to the park remain concerned about property values, which they say went down when word of contamination in the park spread.

Others who pointed out that neighborhood kids played in the park before the contamination was discovered, said that while they wanted the park to reopen, they wanted to be certain it was safe before allowing their children back.

"The last time I was over there, and I was walking the dog, he got glass in his paw," said one resident who asked not to be named. "I certainly don't want to see children come to harm from glass, or chemicals or anything else."

Once the town receives a site management plan back from state officials, restoration -- which likely will include trucking clean fill into the park -- will begin.

But Carpenter said Monday it wasn't yet possible to determine when the park -- with a new soccer field, renovated pool and other improvements -- would reopen.

"The DEC's plan will guide us in doing what is necessary to restore the park and to ensure that it is safe for town residents," Carpenter said. "It will be the guiding document on what our future obligations are going to be."

Which means, given that winter is approaching, a reopening next summer could be a stretch.

Martinez said she hoped that when Clemente park reopens it will be "the best park in Suffolk County."

"I am hoping that the experts cleaned that park to the T," Martinez said. "We don't want to risk another mishap like this for our families."

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