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Cleanup of dumping at West Hills County Park to begin next month

A portion of West Hills County Park was

A portion of West Hills County Park was sealed on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, after Suffolk County officials began an investigation into possible illegal dumping at the park. Credit: Steve Pfost

Suffolk’s top parks official said the cleanup of illegal dumping at West Hills County Park will begin next month, but that the $750,000 being sought from the county legislature will only be a small part of the total cleanup bill.

Philip Berdolt, parks commissioner, said his department has received the needed permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to start the work and the county is hiring a contractor, Branch Services Inc., based in Ronkonkoma, to do the removal of hazardous materials. He said the cleanup will last well into 2018.

“We want to get going fairly quickly,” said Berdolt, before the legislative parks committee voted for the initial funding Wednesday. The full legislature is expected to vote Tuesday to authorize the spending, which was left over from a dredging project at Meschutt County Beach on Peconic Bay.

However, Berdolt also warned lawmakers that the initial funding will be only “a small part” of the overall cost. He said the department is looking to use another $1.6 million for cleanup costs in 2018 that had been set aside for another capital project that has been postponed.

County parks officials say the dumping site totals more than 3.5 acres and District Attorney Thomas Spota last October estimated that hundreds of truckloads of semi-volatile organic compounds, asbestos and metals as well as pesticides banned since the 1960s were found on 8.5 acres that had been leased from the county by Sweet Hills Riding Center. Spota said the finely pulverized material was found at depths from 3.5 to 6 feet and is more toxic than what was found earlier at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood.

The county had ended the contract with Sweet Hollow last September for clearing its leased land without permission and the center is suing the county. Sweet Hollow’s attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Spota’s investigation, meanwhile, is continuing. No one has been charged and no suspects have been publicly named, but Spota has said his office had identified “a number of participants in the dumping scheme.”

Berdolt said he could not estimate the final cost or an exact timeline for completing the work until the contractor can assess the extent of the work needed. But he hoped the job can be finished by late next year. “Unfortunately, it has displaced a large part of the horse community,” he said, although a few trails remain open.

Berdolt said he plans to seek a request for proposals for a new stable operator by late this year or early in 2018 so that the stable can reopen when remediation of the dumping is complete.

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