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Veterans Way housing development in Islandia dumping lawsuit nears settlement

Dirt is removed from the property of a

Dirt is removed from the property of a home at Veterans Way in Islandia on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. Photo Credit: James Carbone

A civil suit filed by families at an Islandia veterans housing development against the nonprofit that built their homes over alleged illegal dumping on their properties is edging closer to resolution after cleanup of the contaminated fill was finished last month.

The suit, filed June 7 in state Supreme Court in Riverhead, names the Long Island Builders Institute, Long Island Home Builders Care Development Corp., the institute’s charitable arm that sponsored the development, and three institute directors: William Zorn, Bob Davis and Jay Ratto, as well as J. Ratto Landscaping, Zorn Industries and Zorn Landscaping.

It also names two men and four companies indicted by Suffolk prosecutors in 2014 for their alleged roles in the dumping scheme that stretched in and around Islip: Thomas Datre Sr., his son Thomas Datre Jr., and 5 Brothers Farming Corp., Daytree at Cortland Square, Datre Family Farms and DFF Farm Corp., all associated with the Datre family.

Peter Creedon, the Northport attorney representing the homeowners, said he was in discussions to settle the suit against all but the criminally indicted defendants now that the properties have been fully remediated.

“Once they finally came to the table with a cleanup plan, that removed a big impediment to working things out,” Creedon said. “It moved us a lot closer to the goal line.”

Mitch Pally, chief executive of both LIBI and Long Island Home Builders Care Development Corp., agreed that a settlement could occur soon.

“We are hopeful that a settlement of all the claims will be achieved shortly,” he said. “We have presented them with what we believe are very reasonable settlement offers.”

The suit claims that Thomas Datre Sr., who was president of the Long Island Home Builders Care Development Corp. while the six-home development was under construction, allowed Thomas Datre Jr. to dump contaminated debris there.

Meanwhile, LIBI, its officers and its charitable arm should have known that “widespread and illegal dumping of construction debris and solid waste” was occurring on the properties — part of a charitable project designed to provide affordable housing for returning veterans — yet they did nothing to stop it, the suit said.

Kevin Kearon, the Garden City attorney representing Thomas Datre Jr. and three of the Datre companies in the criminal and civil cases, said his clients have done “nothing wrong.”

In court filings, attorneys representing several of the defendants denied the claims.

Cleanup occurred in two phases at Veterans Way. In December 2014, the Long Island Home Builders Care Development Corp. removed 1,860 cubic yards of contaminated fill from a berm at the subdivision.

And in November, the state Department of Environmental Conservation approved a plan by the charitable group to remove the rest of the contaminated fill at the site — in the rear and side yards of all six homes, and in the front yards of two of the homes.

The plan called for 2 feet of clean soil to be placed in the rear yards and halfway up the side yards, in addition to 20 inches of clean loam and 4 inches of clean topsoil on the rear yards.

About 44 tons of material was removed and trucked to a disposal site in Pennsylvania at a cost of about $50,000, Pally said. Cleanup was completed Dec. 22.

“We built the houses, we did the remediation, we will pay for the remediation,” Pally said.

The suit is due back before Justice Arthur G. Pitts on Thursday.

“I think insofar as the issues that the homeowners have with LIBI, we’ve worked that out,” Creedon said. “And I think that the focus now is going to be directed toward the individuals and companies that are criminally charged, and trying to determine where these materials came from in the first place.”

Veterans Way is one of four sites named in Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s probe into dumping on Long Island.

The others are Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood, a 1-acre vacant lot in Central Islip and a state-protected wetlands area in Deer Park.

All of the indicted defendants have pleaded not guilty. Jury selection in that trial is scheduled to begin next month.

The families have filed two other lawsuits related to the dumping at Veterans Way. The first, filed in December 2014 days after the indictment, names the Datre men and the four Datre companies as responsible for the dumping.

The other suit, filed Oct. 27 of last year, names the construction companies that built five of the homes, in addition to the owner of the Central Islip property, which the suit alleges served as the way station for the contaminated material that ended up at Veterans Way.

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