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Gov. Cuomo vetoes legislation on LI mulch facilities

Mulching and mining operations are shown at a

Mulching and mining operations are shown at a Sand Land Corp. pit in Noyac on Aug. 18, 2014. Credit: Chuck Fadely

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has vetoed legislation that would have strengthened requirements for mulch facilities on Long Island, saying the issue would be better handled with new regulations, not laws.

In the message that accompanied his Dec. 11 veto of the bill — sponsored by Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) and Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) — Cuomo said the effect of the legislation would be environmentally harmful.

“Enacting this legislation would require such waste to be disposed at a facility off Long Island or at a landfill, rather than be productively recycled as mulch,” Cuomo wrote. “Not only would this waste a marketable product, but it would increase greenhouse gas emissions from transporting the debris.”

There are 45 facilities on Long Island that process the debris, according to the veto message.

The law would have prohibited facilities in Nassau and Suffolk counties from accepting land-clearing debris — defined as vegetative matter, soil and rock — unless they complied with state Department of Environmental Conservation regulations aimed at minimizing “environmental harm.”

Mulch operations on Long Island have been of concern due to contaminants in the mulch leaching into the groundwater system — the sole source of drinking water for the Island’s nearly 3 million residents.

In April, the DEC denied an expansion of a Bridgehampton sand mine, after initially approving it, citing the company’s side business of processing yard waste and construction debris at the site.

Environmentalists had criticized the expansion plans, saying the mine — known as Sand Land — sits over an area important for aquifer protection. The owner has appealed the DEC’s decision.

Cuomo said instead of a new law, he directed the DEC to publish proposed revisions to its solid-waste management regulations by Feb. 28, “thus eliminating the need for additional regulations.”

“DEC is drafting comprehensive, statewide regulations for mulch processing facilities, which include land clearing debris processing,” he wrote, adding that the regulations would focus on issues including odor and runoff.

The changes to the regulations have been discussed and anticipated for years, but a release date had not been announced until now, Englebright said.

The date was discussed publicly at a Wednesday hearing of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee on illegal dumping and sand mining on Long Island.

“I can provide you with great assurance our regulations will be addressing all the things that the legislation identified,” Julie Tighe, the DEC’s assistant commissioner for intergovernmental and legislative affairs, said at the hearing.

Englebright, head of the committee, said he thought the legislation, coupled with the hearing, probably was the impetus for next year’s release of the changes.

But, he said, he thought a law would have given the DEC more strength than a regulation would, especially if the agency was challenged in court.

“The veto doesn’t reinforce the message that the legislature is working in order to enhance the strength of the agencies,” Englebright said at the hearing. “That’s what we’re trying to do. Why have a legislature at all if the king just simply issues decrees and proclamations?”

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