23° Good Morning
23° Good Morning

Adopt better tracking, tougher penalties to prevent illegal dumping

Active Cleanup Site signs hang on the gates

Active Cleanup Site signs hang on the gates to Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood on Sept. 13, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Another public park. Another place where families and children gather and play. Another dumping ground.

This outrageous behavior must end.

Two years ago, Long Island was shocked by the brazen dumping of thousands of tons of contaminated material at Roberto Clemente Park and three other sites in Islip Town. Now another apparent scheme has been uncovered that might differ in scope but not in its essence: Someone dumped construction and demolition debris around a horse stable in West Hills County Park in Huntington Town.

A criminal investigation is ongoing, and that’s good. If this incident indeed follows the pattern in Islip — where five men and one company pleaded or were found guilty of charges that they did the dumping to avoid tipping fees paid to dispose of debris legally — those who did the dumping and those who allowed it to happen must be punished.

But it’s also essential that the state take the steps necessary to once and for all stop this kind of activity; it’s been plaguing Long Island and other areas surrounding New York City, the source of most of the construction and demolition debris, for far too long. That means having the toughest regulations possible governing the disposal of waste. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is rewriting those rules now but its initial proposal was simply not strong enough. The comment period on that draft ended recently and the DEC should listen to the critical feedback it received.

What’s needed is a cradle-to-grave manifest system to track debris from its source to the facility where it’s disposed. The facility must verify it received the debris, and documents proving that must be filed electronically with the DEC. So if debris that’s supposed to be taken to a landfill instead ends up in West Hills County Park, there is a document trail that can be checked. The same would apply for what appears to be more construction and demolition debris dumped recently in an illegal sand mine in Holtsville, acts which drew a $700,000 fine from the DEC. The agency also needs another Long Island officer to investigate environmental crimes; two are not enough. Also potentially helpful: state legislation to make some of these environmental crimes felonies. Right now, they’re misdemeanors.

Illegal dumping is bad. Dumping of material that can be laden with heavy metals, asbestos and pesticides in a place where it can filter down to a sole-source aquifer is heinous. Punish the perpetrators, but rewrite the laws to try to stop this from ever happening again.

— The editorial board