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Remediation of contaminated fill at Veterans Way in Islandia begins

Marine Sgt. Eric Petry with his wife Theresa

Marine Sgt. Eric Petry with his wife Theresa and 5-month-old son Ryan in front of their home on Veterans Way in Islandia. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Cleanup of an estimated 1,000 cubic yards of fill contaminated with toxins at the Veterans Way subdivision in Islandia is scheduled to begin Monday with the debris to be sent to a Pennsylvania landfill.

Sgt. Eric Petry and his family, who live closest to a berm at the site where hazardous materials have been found, loaded a playpen, crib, Dora the Explorer suitcase and boxes of diapers into a gray Ford F150 before leaving their home with their two children, ages 5 months and 4 years Sunday. They are moving into the nearby Hyatt Regency hotel and will remain there for the duration of the project.

The work is expected to last 10 days to two weeks, said Mitch Pally, chief executive of the Long Island Builders Institute, whose charitable arm built the homes for returning veterans and is paying the hotel costs.

"It's definitely going to change our lives for the next two weeks," said Petry, 29, a Marine who served one tour in Afghanistan.

"We just want it to be over with and just live normal," said his wife Theresa, 28, holding baby Ryan in her arms.

Preparations for the remediation were launched last week including utility marking and tree removal, Pally said. If weather conditions permit, pre-excavation work -- erecting a fence around the berm and covering the Petry home's windows with plastic -- will start around 8:30 a.m., with digging to begin in the early afternoon.

"As we have said all along, we will be taking out the fill that should not be there that is in the berm alongside house No. 6, where toxins were found," Pally said in an interview. "We will take that out and take it to a place in Pennsylvania where it is legally allowed to go."

4 sites under investigation

Veterans Way, home to six residences, is one of four sites within the Town of Islip under investigation by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota as part of a criminal probe into what it has called illegal dumping. Investigators have linked this site -- by fill with similar characteristics -- with the town's Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood; a vacant lot on Islip Avenue in Central Islip; and a sensitive wetlands area on the Islip-Babylon town border.

The homeowners -- veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- received the keys to their new homes on a cul-de-sac off Motor Parkway last Dec. 20. The houses were built on the 3.5-acre plot through the Long Island Home Builders Care Development Corp., the charitable arm of the builders institute, and sold to the veterans for half the cost of similar homes nearby.

Investigators were led to Veterans Way after learning companies associated with the Datre family were involved in the project, Newsday has reported. Thomas Datre Sr. was president of the Home Builders Care arm at the time the Veterans Way project was underway and his son, Thomas Datre Jr., was involved in construction.

After disclosure of Spota's probe, Islip Town officials formally blamed Daytree at Cortland Square, a Datre family company owned by Datre Sr.'s wife, Clara Datre, calling it "a responsible party" for the dumping at Clemente Park. Both Thomas Datre Sr. and Clara Datre have said they had no role in the dumping in the park.

Kevin Kearon, attorney for DFF Farm Corp., owned and operated by Thomas Datre Jr., has acknowledged his client's role in the construction of the homes at Veterans Way but said he had no involvement in dumping illegal materials there. In an interview in May, Thomas Datre Sr. said he watched fill being brought in to Veterans Way that "was clean sand with boulders."

Toxic materials exceeding acceptable state Department of Environmental Conservation standards were detected by Enviroscience Consultants Inc. of Ronkonkoma in the berm up to depths of 10 and 20 feet, according to the 37-page remediation plan prepared by Nelson, Pope & Voorhis LLC of Melville. The berm -- measuring about 75 feet long, 25 feet wide and 15 feet deep -- will be removed with an excavator by Yaphank-based EnviroTrac Ltd. and trucked to a site in Palmerton, Pennsylvania.

Seven additional soil samples will then be tested for volatile and semivolatile organic compounds, pesticides, herbicides, PCBs and metals to ensure the remaining soil is not contaminated, the plan states. The area will then be topped with "clean sand imported from a known source" and landscaped by J. Ratto Landscaping of Huntington.

Work depends on weather

Work can only be undertaken in favorable weather conditions, Pally said. A portable anemometer will be installed at the site to monitor wind speeds. Excavation and backfilling cannot take place, for fear of creating dust conditions, if winds exceed 20 mph. As many as 15 trucks with 34 cubic yards of fill could be carting the material out over a two-day period, according to the plan.

The total projected cost for the remediation is about $225,000, Pally said, a bill that will be absorbed by Home Builders Care.

The DEC will provide regulatory oversight during the project and will review a "closure report" at the end to ensure all work is in compliance with the plan's standards.

Enviroscience Consultants was first hired by the Suffolk County district attorney's office to conduct soil testing at the site in May. That testing found potentially cancer-causing chemicals in the berm such as the banned pesticides DDT and chlordane, along with metals like chromium, cobalt, nickel, zinc and lead.

A plan to conduct the next round of testing at the site, to be done by Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, is currently pending state DEC approval, Pally said. Additional testing is expected to be done underneath the roadway that was constructed while the houses were built, as well as around each of the houses, Pally said.

The DEC did not respond to an email request for comment.

A special grand jury convened by Spota -- in place for six months with the ability to be extended -- is now in its 11th week and is investigating dumping in Islip and elsewhere on Long Island.

The Hunkins family, with three daughters ages 13, 3 and 1, will remain in their home during excavation. Staff Sgt. Shawn Hunkins, 28, in his ninth year in the Marine Corps, called the past six months "stressful."

"It's so unfortunate that something that's supposed to be so great -- and it was a dream come true for six families -- that it has turned into the biggest nightmare of our lives," said his wife, Andrea, 30. "It's disgusting to think that people can be so greedy and so selfish that they put veterans and their children and their spouses in such unnecessary situations. It's so unfair."

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