Dozens of people rallied Saturday in Brentwood to urge the Town of Islip to move more quickly to reopen Roberto Clemente Park, a place residents call a 30-acre safe haven for young people that has been closed for 2 1⁄2 years.
“The town is dragging its feet,” said resident and protester Stephanie Spezia, 51.
Town officials have asserted they are moving as fast as they can to reopen the park, where kids went sledding in the winter, swimming in the summer, played basketball and frolicked on playground equipment.
Adults and children chanted, “We want our parks back now!” as they asked drivers of cars passing down Broadway to sign a petition to reopen Clemente.
The protest follows a similar rally in September. Spezia said only with pressure will the town move more quickly to reopen the park, which has been closed since April 2014 after 40,000 tons of illegally dumped material were found there. Even before that, the Olympic-sized swimming pool was closed in 2012 due to budget cuts.
Protester Marcos Maldonado, 35, said the town should at least open up parts of the park that had not been contaminated.
“If the park were open today, she’d be running in there right now,” Maldonado said as he held his daughter, Camila, 2.
Noel Vega, 39, said the park’s continuing closure is part of a pattern of the town giving short shrift to Brentwood because it is predominantly Latino and African-American.
“If this was in Sayville, this would have been done a long time ago,” Vega said as he stood with other protesters just outside a chain-link fence with a “Park Closed” sign. “We get overlooked all the time.”
Town Councilman John C. Cochrane, who is involved in discussions on the park, said he’s “insulted” by the discrimination allegation.
“That’s just wrong,” he said. “We don’t think that way.”
The contaminated soil has been removed, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation signed off on the remediation and on a restoration plan for the park. But Cochrane said there are other steps that need to be taken before the park can be opened.
“I understand people’s frustration,” he said. “People want this done yesterday. But that’s not how government works.”
The plan, he said, is to reopen athletic fields next year and reopen the pool — which needs repairs — in 2018, along with a new spray park. New playground equipment is also planned.
Supervisor Angie Carpenter released a statement Saturday that called the reopening of the park “a top priority” for the town.
“The Town of Islip has been working closely with the community and local leaders to begin rebuilding Roberto Clemente Park, and the planning is underway,” she said. “The Town recently received approval from the DEC to move forward with the next phase of the restoration of the park. The RFP [request for proposal]for the [clean] fill is in the works, which will allow us to backfill the excavated site.”
On Oct. 18, she said, the town board approved a resolution to begin design work for the rehabilitation of the pool and for the spray park, which are being funded by a $2 million state grant.