There is no dispute that Long Island has an illegal dumping problem. Every truckload of contaminated material found in a homeowner's yard or some other unsuspecting victim's site also has made clear that state regulators and local law enforcement need more tools and resources to stamp out this scourge.
So a report released by a special grand jury convened by Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini is timely and welcome. It called for a triple play of tighter regulations on the disposal of hazardous material, new laws to prosecute bad actors and tougher punishments for anyone convicted of illegal dumping. We have advocated for some of these measures for a while, especially mandated electronic tracking of hazardous material from cradle to grave, the use of GPS devices to guarantee accurate tracking, and required electronic signatures at various steps of that process — and to make it a crime not to adhere to this process. These are essential; recent revisions of tracking procedures by the state Department of Environmental Conservation did not criminalize this behavior.
The grand jury's recommendations ranged much further. Sini is to be commended for convening it and directing it to focus on needed legal and administrative changes to root out illegal dumping once its criminal work was complete. Long Island has this problem largely because of New York City's many construction projects, which produce debris that must be easily and cheaply trucked out of town.
Operation Pay Dirt, a joint investigation of Sini's office and the DEC, led to a 130-count indictment against 30 individuals and nine corporations, charging the defendants with illegal dumping of contaminated waste at 24 sites across the region, many of them private homes. Another operation led by the DEC in 2017 discovered 100 illegal dumping sites on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley, of which 44 were in Suffolk. Sini grew frustrated at his inadequate tool kit, like the fact that he's had to rely on a top charge of second-degree criminal mischief, a D felony.
The grand jury's common-sense suggestions include making penalties for illegal dumping more severe when the materials are more hazardous and when they harm the aquifer. The report recommends targeting organized networks coordinated by dirt brokers, and beefing up the DA's environmental crime team. Two suggestions would crack down on sand mining, an issue on which the DEC has a spotty record. Another good proposal would allow victims of illegal dumping to be compensated for damage done to their properties; one property owner told the grand jury remediation costs were as high as $25,000. And, as we have said many times, the DEC needs more staff and money to be properly vigilant.
The report is a good road map. Now it's up to our state lawmakers and, especially, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to translate those directions into actual legislation. The need is urgent because illegal dumping here threatens our sole-source aquifer.
Let's give those waging war on dirty dealers the weapons they need to help Long Island clean up its act for good. — The editorial board