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Oyster Bay added as defendant in Bethpage pollution case

Bethpage Community park is seen on April 15,

Bethpage Community park is seen on April 15, 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

A $500 million class-action lawsuit filed by Bethpage residents against Northrop Grumman Corp. over air, soil and groundwater contamination has been amended to include the Town of Oyster Bay as a defendant.

The lawsuit originally was filed in September but was changed earlier this month adding Oyster Bay because the town owns Bethpage Community Park, which is subject to a more than $60 million state-ordered cleanup plan to remove toxic soil and water fouled by decades of aviation and space vehicle manufacturing and testing.

“That’s one of the most important sites that’s involved [in the case],” said attorney Hunter Shkolnik, who filed the amended lawsuit Nov. 4. “We felt it was important to have them in.”

Oyster Bay spokesman Brian Devine said the town had not been served the lawsuit and could not comment.

Shkolnik’s firm filed the lawsuit on behalf of 15 Bethpage residents living at 10 properties in the hamlet, where soil tests conducted in March revealed elevated levels of contaminants.

The U.S. Navy and what is now Northrop Grumman operated on a more than 600-acre site in Bethpage from the late 1930s to 1996. The site was added to the state Superfund program in the 1980s and several cleanup plans are in effect to remove soils and several groundwater plumes.

The lawsuit initially claimed the defense contractor’s manufacturing operations exposed residents to toxic chemicals in the air, drinking water and soil and that the company should have properly warned the community.

Northrop Grumman spokesman Vic Beck did not respond to a request for comment.

The amended complaint cites the town for owning the parkland, which was once used as a dumping ground for industrial waste, including chromium, volatile organic chemicals and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

“Critically, the town still owns and is responsible for the operation of the park, and thus it is responsible for the contamination emanating from the park, contamination that continues to migrate through deeper portions of the aquifer relied upon by plaintiffs and the classes,” the lawsuit said.

The case initially was filed in state Supreme Court in Mineola, then moved at the request of Northrop Grumman to U.S. District Court in Central Islip. Shkolnik’s firm has filed for the case to be moved back to state court and awaits a judge’s ruling.

Among the reasons Northrop Grumman requested the move to U.S. District Court is the defense contractor said it represents “federal officers” because it was a contractor working on behalf of the military.

“We just think that’s a bunch of hogwash,” Shkolnik said. “The government never told them to poison our neighbors.”

This is the latest in a string of legal issues facing the town. Supervisor John Venditto was indicted by federal prosecutors in October and charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud and obstruction in connection with loan guarantees authorized by the town on behalf of a former town concessionaire who also has been indicted. Venditto has pleaded not guilty but indicated recently he may step down to concentrate on his defense.

And in September, the town and its insurer agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former cafe owner who said he was denied due process when town officials padlocked his restaurant.

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