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Editorial: Dig up truth behind Brentwood toxic dump

Workers are seen collecting soil samples at Roberto

Workers are seen collecting soil samples at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood on May 8, 2014. On Tuesday morning, May 13, 2014, officials swept onto a nearby site on Route 111 in Central Islip to carry out sampling in connection with the criminal probe. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

The still unfolding scandal is appalling: Tens of thousands of tons of asbestos-laden debris were dumped at a Brentwood park as part of an effort to improve two soccer fields.

The details are turning toxic, too.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota rightly called it an "environmental nightmare." And it's up to Spota to untangle the web of dirty-dealing.

Which of several contractors who dumped material at the site dropped the asbestos?

What is the level of involvement of a politically connected family of contractors whose trucks were seen entering and exiting the site?

Why did officials from Islip Town, which owns the park, fail to act despite several warnings about the dumping?

With two town officials already dismissed, how far up the chain of command does responsibility extend?

The sordid saga began last summer, when a local church started rehabilitating the fields at Roberto Clemente Park after the town said it lacked funds to do the job. After running out of materials, the church made a public request for clean fill and received several offers. What happened next was chilling. Trucks began dumping dirt mixed with concrete, glass and metal. The church tried to stop the deliveries but couldn't and as a result the fields were raised 3 feet.

Town board members knew of the project in August but did not intervene. An Islip park ranger noted the dumping in November in a report sent to at least two town officials. The church complained to town employees and were assured nothing was amiss. In January, Brentwood Democrats Assemb. Philip Ramos and Legis. Monica Martinez told Islip officials of resident complaints. It was only then a company owned by Thomas Datre Jr. was told to remove 45 loads of its fill -- clean fill, Datre's attorney says. Datre's parents, Thomas and Clara Datre, are contractors and prominent contributors to the Islip Republican and Conservative parties and some town board members.

In March, town video cameras recorded trucks bearing the Datre name dumping 48 tractor trailers of fill. Last week, Spota said asbestos concentrations in park debris were as high as 44 percent. Samples taken yesterday by Spota's investigators and state Department of Environmental Conservation officials at another debris site in Central Islip also were found to contain asbestos; Spota said the same people might be responsible for the dumping at both places.

It all unfolded just after Town Supervisor Tom Croci was recalled to active duty and deployed overseas. Curiously, despite no definitive findings of wrongdoing, the town is meting out punishments. Councilman Anthony Senft, liaison to the parks department, announced the forced resignation of the commissioner, the firing of his assistant, the removal of Thomas Datre Sr. from the plumbers examining board and the cancellation of a tree-removal contract with one of the Datres' firms. That's the same Senft who said in September it was "utterly ridiculous" to suggest anything "underhanded" was occurring at the park.

Dumping toxic waste in a public park is criminal. And if a culture of cozy relationships between campaign contributors and politicians enabled the dumping, all involved must be held accountable, too.


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