It's time to close the Brookhaven landfill
After years of public promises by Town Supervisor Ed Romaine that the Brookhaven landfill would close in 2024, the recently-released 2023 preliminary budget tells a different story. The budget document states that "the Town’s Landfill in Yaphank remains on track to close its Construction & Debris operation at the end of fiscal year 2024."
However, construction and demolition debris is not the only waste dumped in the landfill. Incinerator ash is also part of the landfill’s waste burden. Municipal solid waste collected by Brookhaven, Hempstead, Islip, and Huntington is incinerated by Covanta Energy at plants throughout Long Island, and then transported to the Brookhaven Landfill. In 2020, over 350,000 tons of ash was dumped at the landfill. When Brookhaven states in its budget document that the landfill will close to construction and demolition debris by the end of fiscal year 2024, but mentions nothing about incinerator ash, the community must conclude that the long-awaited closure is still a matter of smoke and mirrors.
Supervisor Ed Romaine’s silence on the matter of incinerator ash is not surprising. Covanta is fighting a whistleblower lawsuit where the central claim is that the company illegally dumped potentially toxic ash residue in the Brookhaven landfill for the better part of a decade — defrauding Brookhaven taxpayers in the process. Although the lawsuit’s allegations have health and safety implications for residents living near the landfill, not to mention financial implications for all town residents, the town council has not altered its relationship with Covanta while the lawsuit proceeds.
The betrayal of the North Bellport community began in 1970, when a state committee suggested building a landfill in the "northern Bellport school district." The landfill stands adjacent to Frank P. Long Elementary School in the South Country school district, and is the subject of the documentary “Sick School,” about the landfill’s impact on the health of the community. Over the decades, there were many false promises made by the town, including that the burden would be shared with Manorville, that the landfill would be turned into a park, and that the landfill would close in the 1980s. We are now in 2023, and these promises have turned out to be lies. The North Bellport community has disproportionately borne the brunt of Long Island’s regional waste crisis, and we have paid for it with our health. We have the lowest life expectancy of any community on Long Island.
The surrounding community has been demanding the full closure of the landfill for decades. Isn’t fifty years of toxic, racist, shortsighted waste infrastructure enough? But Brookhaven continues to incentivize waste and other industrial development (anaerobic digester, New York's proposed largest waste transfer station, a glut of wasteful warehouses, dubious hydrogen fuel cell technology) that binds the community to a future of diesel truck fumes, industrial runoff, and extractive development.
The Brookhaven Landfill Action & Remediation Group has been advocating around the slogan "Closed Means Closed!" since June 2020 because we know that elected town officials and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have a habit of breaking their promises about the landfill’s future. We call on the Town of Brookhaven to consult with the local community, as well as state and federal partners, in making a plan to close and clean up the Brookhaven landfill. It is time to do what is right.
This guest essay reflects the views of Abena Asare and Monique Fitzgerald, co-founders of the Brookhaven Landfill Action & Remediation Group.