Brookhaven: Changes at Yaphank compost site discussed

February 17, 2012 by MARK HARRINGTON / mark.harrington@newsday.com

Brookhaven Town is in discussions with the owners of a Yaphank compost and mulching facility that would bring "radical" changes to the 62-acre site in response to homeowner complaints about air quality and findings of groundwater contamination, town officials said.

"They are putting everything on the table," Supervisor Mark Lesko said of Compost's proposed plan, which would include enclosures to address air quality, impermeable barriers under piles to stop groundwater seepage, and dispersing operations to other sites in town to reduce the impact on Yaphank.

The Long Island Compost facility on Horseblock Road in Yaphank is the subject of an October enforcement action by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which revoked an operating permit until the company encloses a portion of its operations. The decision is under appeal.  Lesko, speaking yesterday at a workshop attended by a dozen residents, said the town has continued enforcing pile height and other rules at the facility, including recent appearance tickets issued for piles more than 20 feet high.

Lesko, who has been criticized by residents and activist group Citizens Campaign for the Environment for what some have said was a hands-off approach to complaints, told residents he supported the DEC enforcement actions.  "It's a very serious issue," he said. "The DEC is taking it very seriously. There is absolutely no doubt there's going to be changes."

Charles Vigliotti, president of Long Island Compost, who did not attend the meeting, confirmed the company was in discussions to implement "very substantial changes in the way we are going to be operating."  Vigliotti acknowledged the company had been given appearance tickets for pile heights a month ago, but said they were addressed. "We are not in violation of any pile height," he said.

State and county health and environmental officials have identified the site as the source of groundwater contamination that includes raised levels of radionuclides, manganese well above drinking water standards, thallium, ammonia and heavy metals.

A letter from the Suffolk Health Services department released at the meeting also said test wells showed "some pharmaceuticals and personal care products" at low concentrations. The letter said the source of elevated gross alpha levels "continues to be the subject of further investigation," but added, "the precise mechanism that is causing the elevated contaminant concentrations has not yet been determined."  Where groundwater has been impacted, residents have been connected to public water and are no longer drinking it.

In a Newsday story this month, Peter Scully, regional director of the DEC, said findings from monitoring wells at the Yaphank plant and two others nearby are leading the agency to consider imposing tighter regulation of compost and mulching facilities statewide. Vigliotti has previously said the company would comply with any new regulations.