Calling it "environmental racism," the Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group held an Earth Day rally in North Bellport on Saturday to push for the closing and cleanup of the Town of Brookhaven's landfill. Drew Scott reports for NewsdayTV. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

A group of North Bellport residents spent Earth Day marching down Montauk Highway to urge the Town of Brookhaven to close its Yaphank landfill, a tract of land they say has polluted their predominantly minority community for “way too long.”

Hannah Thomas, lead organizer for the Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group, said the Saturday rally sought to raise awareness about the organization’s push to get Brookhaven Town officials to “close down and clean up” the landfill, which scientific data suggests has led to health concerns for neighboring communities.

“This is something that has been going on now and multiplying for 50 years,” said Thomas, who helped to found the group in 2020 as a “local direct action” in support of Black Lives Matter.

More than two dozen participants marched one mile from the northeast corner of Montauk Highway and Station Road to Robert Rowley Park. Standing behind former town waste management employee and remediation group co-founder Dennis Nix, of North Bellport, marchers held signs with messages like “Dump the Dump” as they chanted “closed means closed.”

The event comes one month after Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said at a Stony Brook University symposium on environment and trash issues that the landfill, which town officials had long maintained would reach capacity in 2024, could remain open an additional year or two because of excess capacity that he attributed to a pause in construction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thomas, who has lived in the community for more than 60 years, believes the town has not been fully transparent in its plans for the landfill and, she said, Brookhaven Town has protected the financial well-being of private industry operating around the dump over the health of the residents.

“They have town board meetings … but you’ve got to get on line, you’re not allowed to speak more than three minutes and they do not address your comments,” Thomas said of the process for residents to address elected officials.

In a statement, Town spokesperson Jack Krieger said the Romaine administration remained committed to closing the landfill.

“To date, approximately 70% of the landfill has been capped and closed, and the transition to an energy park powered by solar, fuel cells and other clean energy technologies has begun,” Krieger's statement said. ”Over the past 10 years the town has received input from a citizen advisory committee, held public hearings and listened to the input of hundreds of residents at town board meetings, civic meetings and from their emails, letters and phone calls.”

The landfill, Krieger said, “has operated in a safe and environmentally responsible manner with constant air testing and monitoring by state and federal agencies.”

“This community has borne the brunt of this landfill for way too long and it's time to shut it down, to remediate, to clean up and invest in the health of these constituents,” said Ezekiel Torres, of nearby Shirley.

Earlier this month, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation designated 87 predominantly minority neighborhoods, including North Bellport, as disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change, making them eligible for funds toward the introduction of clean-energy projects.

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