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Pending landfill closure will spark need for more policing, officials say

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), presides over

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), presides over his last environmental roundtable as an elected official in Riverhead on Friday. Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

The pending closure of the Brookhaven Town landfill threatens decades of work preserving thousands of acres of Suffolk land, creating the need for increased policing, officials said at outgoing state Sen. Kenneth LaValle's final environmental roundtable earlier this month.

The landfill is scheduled to close as early as 2024, officials have said, with few options for the thousands of tons of construction debris and other waste currently accepted at only two Suffolk locations, including a privately owned dump.

"One thing that concerns me about the Pine Barrens and many of our open spaces is the need for additional law enforcement," said Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine said, citing increased cases of dumping and bulldozing seen in the Pine Barrens. "There's no one there to stop it from happening." 

State and Suffolk law enforcement have uncovered a spate of environmental crimes tied to construction dumping in recent years, much of it toxic, and the closure of the landfill will tempt violators, officials said. 

The landfill, Romaine noted, takes only construction debris and ash from the island's four waste-to-energy plants, which burn most residential waste. "What's going to happen when it closes?"

He noted the state "needs to get more involved in recycling and waste management. The disposal of garbage is going to be a huge problem." 

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle, noting Sen. LaValle's record as an early champion of land preservation, predicted, "People are going to start using those preserved lands to dump those waste, and it's going to cause more and more problems ... The clock is ticking and we're going to put a lot of our environment in danger if we don't react and start putting a plan together." 

LaValle, who started the environmental roundtables with other state and local lawmakers 15 years ago, has used them as a forum to set environmental policy for the coming legislative year. He told attendees he'd examine ways to increase enforcement patrols in the parks as a way to root out illegal dumping. 

LaValle is credited with pushing through the Pine Barrens Preservation Act in the State Senate, preserving thousands of acres across Suffolk and working with Long Island legislators including then-state Assemb. Thomas DiNapoli, now state comptroller, to get it done. 

This year’s environmental forum will be LaValle’s last as an elected leader after his announcement last month that he won’t run for reelection after 44 years in the Senate — the longest serving senator in office.

Attendees at the forum also discussed the desire to increase an environmental bond act in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget to $5 billion from its initially targeted $3 billion, but said it has to include specific local priorities and public involvement. 

"We need to know how this money is going to be spent, and more importantly the public needs to know," said Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor). He praised LaValle for the roundtable and his environmental legacy, while noting the farewell had a familiar ring. 

"Everywhere we go now, there's cakes, there's plaques," Thiele said. "It's a pleasure to participate in the political equivalent of the Derek Jeter retirement tour." 

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