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Suffolk panel OKs $1.5 million to oversee West Hills cleanup

Suffolk County park ranger shown at the riding

Suffolk County park ranger shown at the riding stable at West Hills County Park on Aug. 26, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

The Suffolk Legislature’s parks committee Wednesday unanimously approved $1.5 million to supervise the cleanup of toxic dumping at West Hills Park.

But legislators raised concerns that a plea deal in the case was not tough enough on polluters and could force the county back to court to recoup its total costs.

Lawmakers say they will ask the district attorney’s office to appear before the legislature to discuss the plea deal before the final vote Tuesday on the spending. The plea deal was reached in November before District Attorney Timothy Sini took office.

“There’s no real penalty here,” said Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia). “To me, the penalty is insignificant compared to the damage it caused,” making the plea deal nothing but “a cost of doing business.”

Concerns arose when County Attorney Dennis Brown said the plea deal against three defendants, LJM Gardens LLC, of West Hempstead, Kris/D/Lyne3 Contracting Corp., of Garden City Park, and Sweet Hills Stables, of Central Islip, requires the defendants to remove and dispose of 450 truckloads — about 15,750 cubic yards — of tainted material.

The defendants will dispose of the material at a site approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The settlement also required Sweet Hills to pay $34,000 for 58 trees that were improperly removed from the park. The agreement also requires that defendants follow the cleanup plan developed by Suffolk’s outside consultant. It also permits the county to seek payment for additional costs such as supervising the cleanup.

Lawmakers worried the deal allows those who did the dumping to remove the tainted material, and does not clearly spell out that polluters are responsible for all cleanup costs, without having to return to court.

“I don’t want to spend $1 of taxpayer money on this,” said Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

Parks officials asked lawyers for authority to borrow $5.5 million for the cleanup last August. But the department delayed starting the cleanup in September when the district attorney’s office asked for permission to negotiate a plea deal in November.

Philip Berdolt, parks commissioner, said prosecutors did not consult with the department on details of the plea agreement.

Berdolt said he hopes that if the legislature approves the $1.5 million borrowing for supervising the cleanup, the cleanup can start in April.

Parks officials say the dumping covers more than 3.5 acres of parkland.

Officials have said hundreds of truckloads of semi-volatile organic compounds, asbestos and metals as well as pesticides banned since the 1960s were detected in the finely pulverized material found at depths from 3 1⁄2 feet to 6 feet.

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