New York Compost Facility Burns

Patrick Whittle. and John Valenti
Newsday, Melville, N.Y.
July 12, 2010

The state Department of Environmental Conservation will investigate the safety of a Yaphank compost facility after a raging fire early Monday pumped putrid fumes into the surrounding area for several hours.

The cause of the Long Island Compost blaze, which took more than a hundred firefighters from 22 departments to bring down, was still under investigation, officials said.  Recent dry weather may have helped cause the fire, which began at about 2:40 a.m. and burned an approximately 200-by-400-foot area of compost materials until midday, said Bruce Mazza, second assistant chief of the Brookhaven Fire Department. The materials, which included logs, tree stumps and tree limbs, were piled more than 50 feet high, he said.  The DEC will investigate to see if "the size of this pile was excessive" or if other unsafe conditions contributed to the blaze, said Peter Scully, a department spokesman.

One of the owners of the facility, Charles Vigliotti, said in a statement the fire posed no danger to the surrounding area. Vigliotti said this is the first fire at the transfer station since it began operations about 10 years ago.  Vigliotti, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the DEC investigation. He also issued a statement that the facility "is in full compliance with local and state laws."

At one point, Mazza said, flames from the burning pile shot more than 40 feet into the sky -- and roads in the area surrounding the site on Horseblock Road and Yaphank Avenue were closed as fire equipment was moved into place.

"It's been an extensive fight," Mazza said.

The 62-acre site has been a source of irritation for neighbors, who complain of its odors. Earlier this year a Suffolk County Health Department report accused the facility of emitting foul odors four times greater than the state guideline, and town and county officials have demanded the state bring the complex into compliance. In 2007, the company was fined $22,500 by the state over issues of odor and emissions.

Neighborhood resident Diane Barone said living next to the facility gives her "the fear of these kinds of fires."  County Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley) said in a statement that the fire illustrates that the facility is "a danger to the neighborhood."

Vigliotti responded in a statement provided by a public relations firm accusing Browning of advancing "her political agenda" against the facility.

According to its website, Long Island Compost is the "leading provider of organic materials, services and products" on Long Island. The company, founded by Vigliotti along with his brothers Arnold and Dominic more than 30 years ago, says it recycles hundreds of thousands of tons of leaves, grass clippings and other landscape-related materials annually.