What happened in Roberto Clemente Park was a crime. That’s no longer an opinion. It’s fact.
Thomas Datre Jr. and Christopher Grabe have pleaded guilty to felonies for their roles in the dumping of tens of thousands of tons of contaminated material in the park and three other sites in Islip Town. Other trials are pending. But successful prosecutions and prison sentences cannot be the only outcomes of this deplorable situation.
Think about what went on. Contaminated material containing hydrocarbons, pesticides and metals was dumped openly and repeatedly in a popular town park. It was buried at a six-home housing development for veterans. And in a wetlands. And in a vacant lot in a residential area. At the root was individual greed and wrongdoing. But it was enabled by the failure of a regulatory system that is supposed to protect the public from environmental harm. And it leads to the ominous question: In how many other places on Long Island has this happened?
No one knows. New York lacks a system to track the disposal of such debris and the personnel to make that work. Both must be remedied. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued draft regulations for waste disposal, but they’re not tough enough. They must include cradle-to-grave computerized tracking, and the intended recipient must certify it received the material. The industry needs to be informed of the new rules, and the DEC needs to enforce them. But the agency needs more staffing to do that. A DEC worker testifying at the Datre trial said infrequent inspections were a result of staffing shortages.
Strong rules, consistent enforcement, and a fully staffed DEC are essential. Or another Roberto Clemente debacle is a matter of when, not if.— The editorial board