A possible landfill lawsuit

Brookhaven Community Coalition eyes height issue; hires attorney

Long Island Advance
June 14, 2012

By LINDA LEUZZI 

The Brookhaven Community Coalition, the civic group that formed last year when bio solid odors from the Brookhaven landfill permeated the area and shut down a school, has hired an attorney in a move to protest the town’s proposed 50 foot landfill height raise. It would raise the landfill bar to 320 feet above mean sea level. “The executive board is chipping in and we’re asking the civics on the BCC list to chip in as well,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, who is leading the charge. “But we feel the health and the safety of the community need to be protected and we don’t see the town doing it.” Esposito said the bigger the height, “the more dust and ash will be blowing across our communities.” The BCC has retained Christopher Murray, an attorney with Ruskin, Muscou, Faltischek PC, a Uniondale firm. When reached, Murray told the Advance the group hadn’t filed to date. “Right now we’re going through our options,” Murray said. “[The town has] to file an application with the DEC and we’ll be looking at whether we deal with the DEC decision first, or a lawsuit or both.” Murray said the group would know what direction to follow within the next week to 10 days. 

Landfill lawsuits aren’t unusual, Murray said. “Issues regarding landfills are pretty sensitive and there’s been a fair amount of litigation regarding landfills,” he said. “I think getting legal representation to protect their rights is something they need to do.” When health issues were discussed at the town board hearing, except for Councilwoman Connie Kepert’s lone support, “it was dismissed with an almost cavalier attitude,” Esposito said. “We’re not looking for money; we want the town to stop creating a garbage monster and move quickly to solid waste management alternatives.” 

In a past interview, Supervisor Mark Lesko said the landfill height raise would bring in an additional volume of 3.9 million cubic yards, which would generate approximately $120 million in net revenue, funding the town sorely needs. He also pitched hiring a world-class consultant to do a landfill analysis. The BCC proposed several alternatives to the town on May 3 at a work session that included accelerating the intake of cell 6, which would lead to an earlier closure date, as well as taxing residents about $10 per household per year to share the burden of the Yaphank facility. Satellite landfill facilities were also recommended. Lesko, who has been meeting with the coalition, was open to the group presenting their suggestions for a town board vote. But the town board voted 6- 1 for the height raise on May 8. Kepert, the only dissenter, pitched increasing the landfill by varying heights instead of the 50-foot mark. 

“The community is beyond frustrated at this time,” Kepert said. “They really made their case before the town board. I asked if we could increase the height by 10 or 15 feet instead and not necessitate the extension of the life of the landfill but more forward with accelerated intake.” The town board approved the amendment proposed by Kepert to investigate lower height raises. Commissioner of Waste Management Matt Miner told the Advance a permit would have to be submitted to the DEC for the height raise. “Will it be a new permit application or a modification?” he said. “We weren’t told officially how the state would treat the application and we haven’t formally submitted an application. We submitted informal documentation. Whether we need a new permit or require an EIS, until the state gives us that guidance [it’s on hold until then].” The material taken in would be construction demolition debris and ash, he emphasized. 

What remains of the landfill for collection lies mostly in cell 6, Miner said. “What has already been constructed to date is 46 acres and there’s another 70 acres to go. It really depends on how many cubic yards to fill a hole. Cell 5 has pretty much been built out.” If no height raise was tackled, the life of the landfill would end somewhere around 16 years, Miner said. “If we have another economic slowdown, then we see it going out a little longer. At the current fill rate it’s about 16 to 17 years.” Miner refused to comment about the lawsuit possibility. 

Jackie Cortes, an East Patchogue mother of a 3-year-old son, lives two miles from the landfill and Great Gardens. Cortes attended the public hearing at Town Hall on May 8 for the landfill vote. Her son has a chronic cough that doctors can’t pinpoint. “We had a pulmonologist take a look at his lungs,” she said. “There were no diseases they found but he had a lot of bacteria in his mucous. The air around here isn’t great and we don’t know if it’s related.” Cortes pointed to the American Lung Association State of the Air website; her zip code 11772 popped up an “F” ozone layer determination and a “B” in particle pollution. Cortes plans to attend the BCC meeting on Monday, June 18 at 7 p.m. at the Brookhaven firehouse. “We all know that it comes down to the money,” she said.