Republican Suffolk lawmakers Tuesday blocked a $1.5 million bond resolution to supervise the cleanup of toxic material dumped at West Hills County Park, which Democrats labeled a partisan attack.
However, the seven-member Republican caucus said the legislature earlier approved $750,000 that parks officials said could be used to start cleanup work immediately.
It was the first time the GOP caucus successfully flexed its muscle to keep the 11-member Democratic majority from getting the needed two-thirds vote for borrowing.
After the vote, Parks Commissioner Philip Berdolt said his department would begin the cleanup work within a month, but questioned if there was enough money to complete the job. However, county attorneys also disclosed that they were filing legal papers by the end of the day to sue those responsible for the dumping to pay the entire costs.
Later, Jason Elan, County Executive Steve Bellone’s spokesman, said: “The Republican minority should be ashamed at putting politics ahead of the health and welfare of residents who deserve a safe neighborhood park at West Hills.”
But Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) called the sniping “the biggest joke I heard in my life.”
The cleanup of the dumping, which began 3 1⁄2 years ago, but wasn’t discovered until 2016, has been delayed while consultants determined the extent of the problem and developed a plan. Although parks officials originally planned to begin work in September, they were delayed while prosecutors negotiated a plea deal with three defendants in the case. Under that deal reached in November, defendants agreed to remove toxic debris, which was estimated to cost as much as $4.5 million, and to spend $34,000 replacing 58 trees knocked down at the park.
Trotta said the county had spent $22,000 of the $750,000 already approved for overseeing the cleanup, using the money for fencing. If Democrats were so concerned, Trotta added, “Why weren’t there trucks over there the day after the plea?”
Republican Legis. Leslie Kennedy said she voted against the West Hills bonding despite voting for the spending because the county had the money to get started with the cleanup. “We have $750,000 available now. We’re not getting the answers we need,” she said.
GOP lawmakers raised questions about details of the plea deal, why all county costs were not covered by the agreement and whether other defendants were involved.
The GOP caucus blocked borrowing for the park work and two other bonds — one for another hazardous waste removal and the other for park improvements.
Presiding officer DuWayne Gregory assailed the hard-line GOP stance: “This is garbage.”