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A year later, plans unsettled for the closure of Brookhaven Landfill

Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine at an environmental symposium on Wednesday, March 13 at Stony Brook University.
Sara McGiff
/
WSHU
Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine at an environmental symposium on Wednesday, March 13 at Stony Brook University.

This year marks the beginning of the end for Brookhaven Landfill.

That is what spurred discussion among industry groups and environmental advocates at an environmental symposium on Wednesday, March 13 at Stony Brook University, seeking answers for the future of waste disposal on Long Island.

By the end of this year, construction and demolition debris will no longer be accepted at the Yaphank-based facility, according to Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine. The remaining space at the landfill, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Dan Panico has said, will accept waste that is burned into ash at nearby incinerators until capacity is reached. The state permit for the facility expires in 2026.

However, the problem of what to do with construction debris in 2025, and eventually ash waste, after the landfill is closed remains largely open-ended.

Romaine said there needs to be a regional sold waste plan between Suffolk’s 10 towns. He told industry leaders that Long Island needs to look towards rail to address the island’s waste disposal transition.

“We have to start thinking of moving our garbage, if we can’t process it, by rail,” Romaine said.

There are already dozens of existing waste transfer stations on Long Island. In recent years, the state permitted two more facilities to open — in Medford and Brentwood. Two more proposals — in Yaphank and Kings Park — are in different stages of federal, state and local approval.

Romaine, the former Brookhaven Town supervisor, does not believe this will be enough to support the more than 750,000 tons of debris and ash that the Brookhaven Landfill accepts each year. As county executive, he wants to convene a panel of industry experts and lawmakers to plan for when the facility is expected to close over the next few years. He said that he plans to host this panel sometime in April.

Over the last few years, Romaine has blamed the state Department of Environmental Conservation for treating Long Island differently than the rest of New York, which handles waste by county — instead of by town.

“People that know this industry sit around a table and come up with a regional solid waste plan that works for all 10 towns,” Romaine said. “I think we’d be able to stand up to the DEC and say this is what works.”

Brookhaven NAACP President Georgette Grier-Key
Sara McGiff
/
WSHU
Brookhaven NAACP President Georgette Grier-Key

However, the room of industry leaders grew tense as Brookhaven NAACP President Georgette Grier-Key pressed Romaine for supporting the development of Winter Brothers’ planned waste transfer station in Yaphank.

In February, the local and state chapter of the NAACP, as well as the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, had their lawsuit to block the town’s approval of the facility dismissed in state court.

According to the NAACP, the Yaphank facility would have the capacity to transfer an estimated 1.1 million tons of waste, which would make room for Brookhaven to accept garbage from elsewhere in the state. This on top of the Brentwood transfer station handling an estimated 1,500 tons of construction debris and 800 tons of municipal solid waste per day, and the Medford site could haul over 800 tons of construction debris and 1,900 tons of trash daily.

Grier-Key warned the project could also bring in double the amount of transport vehicles through nearby communities of color — according to Romaine’s presentation, he cited an annual average of 55,000 trucks coming into the landfill.

“Frankly, it’s a switcharoo because the new facility that the Winter Brothers is proposing is gonna be 60% larger than what is there now,” Grier-Key said. “We already know that there are many trucks coming, we believe that there’s gonna be 100,000 coming into our community, further adding pollution.”

Winter Brothers’ proposal is awaiting approval from the federal Surface Transportation Board to extend a freight rail spur for the waste transfer station. The Town of Brookhaven had fought for jurisdiction by “exercis[ing] local land use and zoning authority” when Romaine was town supervisor, according to a 2020 letter sent by town attorneys to the federal agency.

Romaine said he didn’t recall sending the letter. He said the future of the proposal is now up to the federal agency — not the town.

Grier-Key said neither in the local zoning nor federal process has allowed for nearby communities of color to have a voice. She called for the landfill to be closed immediately to protect the community.

Sara McGiff is a news intern at WSHU for the fall of 2023.