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It’s everyone’s job to watch out for Long Island’s parks

Suffolk County legislator Kara Hahn speaks about illegal

Suffolk County legislator Kara Hahn speaks about illegal dumping during a news conference inside the lobby of the Suffolk County Legislative building in Hauppauge on Jan. 24, 2017. Hahn is proposing to start a parks watch program after she was alerted about illegal dumping at Tanglewood Park in Coram. Suffolk County Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory is on the right. Credit: James Carbone

The illegal dumping discovered in Coram’s Tanglewood Park wasn’t as extensive or as threatening as what took place in Roberto Clemente park in Brentwood. That’s not the point.

The point is that it happened, and that it continues to occur on Long Island, in public places where no one is watching, often under the cover of night. It’s a disgrace. The big scandals — like the ones at Clemente and at West Hills County Park in Melville — grab our attention. The smaller ones erode our trust and degrade our quality of life.

Environmental officials and advocates say illegal dumping has been going on forever — in our parks, in the pine barrens, off the service road of the Long Island Expressway. Mostly, it’s about money — the dumpers, commercial or otherwise, don’t want to pay landfill fees. The junk in Tanglewood included construction debris, vinyl siding, two-by-fours, roof shingles, laminate, carpeting, furniture, tires, concrete and bricks.

The vexing problem is how to stop it. A cradle-to-grave tracking system would help ferret out large-scale abuses. But there are not enough eyes and ears to catch smaller ones. Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) has invited parks officials from all levels of government across Long Island to a summit tomorrow to seek solutions. She has proposed legislation to set up a parks watch program, modeled on community watch programs, in which neighbors of county parks would be recruited and encouraged to report suspicious activity. It’s worth considering, but if it’s worth pursuing, then every town, village, city and both counties should pass similar laws for all local parks.

We Long Islanders love our parks. Perhaps all of us could lend a hand to stop them from being despoiled.