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Port Jefferson residents skeptical on dump site cleanup

Port Jefferson, New York -November 17, 2009: Warren

Port Jefferson, New York -November 17, 2009: Warren Coburn claims that his neighbors are dumping trash and planting bamboo to disguise the mess in Port Jefferson, New York on November 17, 2009. Photo Credit: Newsday/Photo by Joel Cairo

April and Warren Coburn Jr. of Port Jefferson have watched the debris in their neighbors' yard pile so high since 2000 that the 6-foot-tall wooden fence separating their properties is now buckling under the weight of hulks of cars, rusting weed trimmers and heaps of trash.

So the Coburns were a little cynical when village officials told them the yard - the source of a feud between local politicians and the site of a recent village investigation that found a half dozen code violations - will soon be clean.

The Coburns said they have been complaining to village officials about the property since 2000 and they believe the house - which they say is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, rats and feral cats - is a fire hazard, a public health threat and an eyesore. But they are running out of faith in their village government's willingness to clean the house up.

"Ten years," said Warren Coburn, an operations manager for a Ronkonkoma communications firm. "It just boggles the mind."

The Willis Avenue property is the home of Brian and Timothy Burden, family members said, and its yard stores everything from boats and ATVs to plastic religious statues. Nearly every foot of the backyard and an adjoining lot is obscured by debris, some of which is covered with ripped tarps.

The home is owned by a trust, and the trustee is Martin Burden, said Pat Burden, his wife and mother of Brian and Timothy. The Coburns believe the Burden brothers are using the property as a junkyard or storage facility for some kind of business, which Pat Burden denied.

She declined to address the state of the property beyond saying "my sons live in the house." Brian, Timothy and Martin Burden did not respond to requests for comment.

Port Jefferson officials are attempting to bring the Burdens to court, which would allow the village to force them to clean the property, said Mayor Margot Garant. On Nov. 6, the Burdens were issued six code violations, each of which carries penalties of up to $100 in fines and 10 days in jail. The brothers did not respond to the charges about the property's condition as required by Nov. 16 and are in the process of being summoned to court, according to Garant and village records.

The state of the property has pitted Garant and Trustee Leslea Snyder against Trustee Carmine Dell Aquila, who accused Snyder and Garant of protecting the Burdens. The property had signs on its front lawn supporting Garant during her election run last spring, Dell Aquila said. Snyder and Garant both denied protecting the Burdens, and Snyder accused Dell Aquila of aggravating the problem by calling the state DEC about the house.

"It was kind of a rogue action and it's escalated the situation," she said.

Dell Aquila adamantly denied calling the DEC, saying he called village code officers, who called the DEC. But Port Jefferson Village Code Enforcement Chief Wally Tomaszewski said he did not, nor did he know that anyone in his department did.

"The whole situation stinks. The village mishandled it," Dell Aquila said.

DEC police inspected the house on Oct. 17, found no environmental violations and turned the task of investigating the property over to village officials, said DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo. DEC officials declined to name the person who asked them to investigate the house.

April and Warren Coburn said they just would like to be able to watch their 5-year-old son, Warren III, play in the backyard and not worry about the safety of the house next door.

"I have nothing against them," Warren said. "I want the property clean."

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