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West Hills stables in Melville to reopen around June 1

Investigators at scene, including then-Suffolk County Police Commissioner

Investigators at scene, including then-Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini, second from right, on Aug. 26, 2016, at the riding stables at West Hills County Park in Melville, where illegal dumping occurred. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County Park officials expect to reopen the long-shuttered stables at West Hills County Park around June 1, nearly three years after the county terminated a contract with the former stable operator after the dumping of toxic materials at the site.

Parks Commissioner Phillip Berdolt said the new operator will be DDR Farms of Melville, owned by Diana and Dennis Russo, which was chosen over three proposals.

“We’re pleased to move forward and open this place up for the community and we’re confident It will be better than before,” Berdolt said.

Berdolt said DDR Farms scored well with a five-member screening panel on their experience, business plan and capital spending on the stable, which occupies 8.5 acres of the 855-acre county park.

Several who were not chosen, however, questioned the selection process, saying they presented more extensive plans, proposed larger investments or had more experience.

The reopening will mark the end of a prolonged disruption for the boarders and riders who used the park heavily until August 2016, when the dumping of hundreds of truckloads of tainted construction debris was discovered.

At the end of 2017, three firms — LJM Gardens LLC of West Hempstead, Kris/D/Lyne3 Contracting Corp. of Garden City Park and Sweet Hollow Stables of Central Islip, the former operator — agreed in a plea deal to do a cleanup.

“We’re thrilled that Suffolk County cleaned the facility up and thrilled to have a new operator in there,” said Joanna Sasso, head of the Muttontown Horseman’s Association and a regional director of the New York State Horse Council. “Everyone is anxious to get back there.”

Parks officials said nearly 16,000 cubic yards of toxic material was trucked out of the 3.5-acre dumping site. Work was completed about two months ago.

But $450,000 in restoration work remains. That will include replacement of tainted material with soil 6 feet deep in some places; planting of 250 trees, shrubs, and plants; and repairs to the 30-space parking lot. Work is expected to take two weeks to complete.

Berdolt said new operators are working on the stable, which is expected to board up to 40 horses and provide trail rides, lessons and operate a day camp.

The 10-year contract with DDR Farms calls for a flat fee of $50,000 for this year, although the number will be reduced to $30,000 since operations will not start until about June 1, Berdolt said. DDR will pay $52,000 in 2020 with a 1 percent increase each year thereafter, he said.

The contract also calls for payment of 6 percent of gross sales above $100,000, increasing by one-tenth of a percent each year. The agreement requires $300,000 in capital investment over a decade, and has options for two five-year extensions.

Unsuccessful bidders included Indian Head Rails and Trails Inc., owned by Wayne Dougal, who operated a nearby private stable, which he closed recently when he sold the land. The former stable operator also submitted a proposal.

Andre Marabini, a horse enthusiast who owns North Shore Builders in Huntington Station, said he presented a 300-page proposal with $1 million in improvements including a new indoor arena.

“All of our proposals were stronger than hers,” Marabini said of Diana Russo.

The Russos did not return calls for comment.

Diana Russo worked for Sweet Hollow as a trainer, but Berdolt said the screening committee was satisfied that she had no knowledge or connection to the dumping.

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