Ashes to ashes
When the Brookhaven Town Board established an ad-hoc committee six months ago to advise the town on its looming solid waste crisis, the central issue was whether the town should build a new ash fill next to the existing Yaphank landfill slated to close in 2024.
Many observers assumed the fix was in, that the town would use the committee’s anticipated blessing as the cover it needed to proceed with the controversial ash fill. But the committee recently threw a wicked curveball: It said no. And that will reverberate across the region.
The committee made an environmental justice argument, that it would be unfair to continue to burden the surrounding community with the "angst and adverse impacts" of the landfill. And while the recommendation is not binding, it will be difficult for Brookhaven to disregard it given the committee’s makeup (members included Gershow Recycling owner Kevin Gershowitz, Bellport Mayor Ray Fell, Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito, municipal solid waste expert Frank Roethel of Stony Brook University, South County Ambulance chief Gregory Miglino, and the heads of various local civic associations), the amount of work the group put into its analysis, and the comprehensiveness of the report itself.
Brookhaven’s current landfill accepts construction and demolition debris (C&D) as well as ash from burned municipal solid waste from the towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead, Huntington, Smithtown, Islip and Brookhaven. A new ash fill would have kept those arrangements in place while ensuring a continuing revenue stream for Brookhaven.
No ash fill would mean a loss of money for Brookhaven, and higher expenses for disposing garbage for the other towns. And a lot more waste would have to be carted off Long Island, unless the region’s towns come together to site a new ash fill, an unlikely bet.
There would be little appetite for hauling that waste off Long Island by truck, which would add to traffic and wear-and-tear on roads. So the most likely alternative would be a heavier-than-expected reliance on rail. There are three proposals for rail transfer stations in Yaphank, Medford and Brentwood, but all three have been opposed to varying degrees by their local communities making their own environmental justice arguments. And it’s not clear whether there would be enough rail capacity to handle the C&D plus the ash.
One silver lining could be a renewed emphasis on recycling and new state legislation to force producers of plastics, cardboard and paper packaging to pay some of the costs of those programs.
As the ripples expand and the clock ticks, Long Island’s leaders have no time to waste.
—Michael Dobie @mwdobie
Tossing his hat in the ring
As former President Donald Trump seeks to renew the MAGA movement by speaking at a CPAC event on Sunday, you may remember the story of Salvatore Esposito, the Suffolk County Community College groundskeeper who in the spring of 2019 drew headlines for wearing a Make America Great Again hat on the job.
Esposito ultimately stopped wearing the hat and kept his job, but he’s back in the political limelight now because he’s one of the candidates running for president of his union, Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees. Among his campaign issues is restoring people’s "voice and choice."
Though Esposito doffed the hat under scrutiny two years ago and has been "laying low" since, he told The Point, the controversy didn’t exactly end. The college told Esposito the hat was prohibited because it wasn’t part of his uniform, Newsday reported at the time. More recently, Esposito moved to file a lawsuit against the college on the freedom of expression/hat subject. A college spokesman noted Esposito wasn’t disciplined about the hat and declined to comment on pending litigation.
Esposito also has had tussles with his own union, feeling that it insufficiently supported him about the hat. Leading up to the looming union election, the groundskeeper has gone back and forth with the union’s election committee about the technicalities of campaign materials to be sent to members. He was not allowed to send a photograph of a red cap with the slogan "Make AME Great Again," for example, because he was not himself in the picture. He ultimately got approval for a photo of himself wearing a MAGA hat.
Ballots for the election will be counted on March 29, according to the union’s election committee. The president’s term lasts for four years and comes with a stipend. Esposito, who said he voted for President Donald Trump in 2020 but noted, "I do recognize Joe Biden as president," posits that his identity among union members is fairly clear.
"I’m the MAGA hat guy," he said.
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
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Make the Road finds a path to Kaminsky
On Thursday, immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York did a pandemic version of its annual trip to Albany by holding an event at the local offices of Albany leadership — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie — and one Long Islander, Sen. Todd Kaminsky.
The Long Beach Democrat’s inclusion on the list is partially explained by the fact that Make the Road mostly operates downstate. But it’s also an acknowledgment of the influential position held by the Long Island State Senate delegation and Kaminsky, generally seen as that delegation’s dean. He was labeled as "a key Long Island Senator" in the advocacy group’s news release.
Kaminsky and other Long Island Democrats have been the object of pressure campaigns from progressive groups in recent years as activists attempt to turn post-Independent Democratic Conference majorities into legislative changes. Allies of Make the Road also did a Hempstead event Thursday calling for Sen. Kevin Thomas to support relief measures.
The package Make the Road currently advocates for provides a window into the ongoing push and pull. The bills it supports include some of the new revenue raisers, relief on rent and relief for those who might have difficulty receiving it elsewhere due to immigration status or recent incarceration. The bills don’t have any Long Island senators as cosponsors, according to the Senate website.
That doesn’t mean the Long Island delegation’s position is set. A budget group put together by Stewart-Cousins is expected to make recommendations to the Senate about the proliferating variants of tax increases and revenue raisers. One of the floated options, which would increase taxes on high earners, sponsored by Central New York’s Rachel May last year, got co-sponsorships from Thomas along with State Sens. Anna Kaplan, John Brooks, Jim Gaughran and Republican Phil Boyle.
Ultimately, Senate Democrats could hash out compromise deals between progressive and moderate wings. Or one wing could dominate. Then there’s the open question of how Cuomo’s current suite of troubles might affect his bargaining position in the budget.
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano