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State DEC right to seek wetland cleanups

A 300-foot berm of debris seen Monday morning

A 300-foot berm of debris seen Monday morning on May 19, 2014, at the rear of a property located at 175 Brook Avenue in Babylon. The debris sits atop a sensitive wetland site, Sampawams Creek, which forms part of the watershed of the Great South Bay. Investigators from the Islip illegal dumping probe into Roberto Clemente Park, visited the Deer Park site. They are trying to determine if it is linked to their criminal investigation. Credit: James Carbone

While attention in the Islip illegal dumping scandal has focused on a town park in Brentwood and a veterans housing development in Islandia, contaminated fill at a third site in a Deer Park wetland poses a bigger environmental danger. A 300-foot berm on a steep slope above Sampawams Creek threatens to leach out contaminants such as pesticides and metals that could harm plant and animal life and poison groundwater there and downstream to Great South Bay.

The site must be cleaned, and soon.

Typically, landowners are liable for third-party dumping on their properties, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation is having trouble getting the Deer Park owner -- and another owner of a fourth site in Central Islip -- to clean their properties. Both people claim they are victims, a common if legally indefensible strategy even in the unfortunate cases when it is true.

The DEC, which does not want to impede the Suffolk County district attorney's criminal investigation, plans to ratchet up its effort to force the owners to act. That's good. If necessary, the DEC should pay for the work and seek reimbursement by placing liens on the properties or billing the landowners and/or parties found responsible for the dumping.

Sampawams Creek is part of Long Island's sad legacy of filling in wetlands for development. Over the years, the DEC has taken action against owners of several industrial properties along the creek who did so to increase the usable portions of their land.

The DEC must continue to stand strong now against this practice. Dumping in wetlands is wrong and harmful, and there must be consequences for those who did it or allowed it to happen.