© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

NAACP worries about Suffolk County's closed-door discussions on trash plan

Brookhaven Landfill rises behind the Frank P. Long Intermediate School and playground in North Bellport.
Ashley Pavlakis
Brookhaven Landfill rises behind the Frank P. Long Intermediate School and playground in North Bellport.

Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine was expected to hold a closed-door meeting on Wednesday to discuss the future of regional waste management with all 10 of the county’s town supervisors.

Trash disposal on Long Island will get more complicated due to the imminent closure of the Brookhaven Landfill, which will stop accepting thousands of tons of construction and demolition debris by next year. The facility will remain open to accept household and other solid waste that is burned into ash at incinerators until at least June 2026 — when the state permit for the Yaphank-based facility expires.

The county executive’s office did not respond to requests for comment about the meeting’s attendance and official record of what decisions were made or discussed.

Instead, the meeting was confirmed by the NAACP New York State Conference, which said it’s been trying to get a seat at the table to ensure that any regional solid waste plan is focused on environmental justice and relieves the burden disproportionately placed on communities of color.

The NAACP — which was uninvited — said it was concerned the meeting was held behind closed doors, especially without a public audience or participation. In letters to Suffolk’s 10 town supervisors, Brookhaven NAACP president Georgette Grier-Key wrote: “to caution you against accepting as fact some of the information you may hear.”

“As county executive, Ed Romaine has flip-flopped his position and now supports Winters’ efforts to subvert local zoning and build the largest waste transfer station in state history and turn Brookhaven into a dumping ground for New York City,” Grier-Key said. “We believe that is a mistake and you should reject it.”

The waste disposal company Winter Brothers is among several industry leaders hoping to develop new means of transferring waste off of Long Island, including one of four waste transfer stations in different stages of approval — in Yaphank, Deer Park, Brentwood and Medford — to haul trash to out-of-state landfills by freight rail.

Romaine, the former Brookhaven Town supervisor, signaled during an environmental symposium in March that as county executive, he would convene these meetings alongside industry leaders to figure out where to dispose of more than 500,000 tons of construction waste and approximately 340,000 tons of ash waste from Brookhaven and several other municipalities.

Romaine blames the state Department of Environment Conservation for a lack of regional planning, calling it a “waste crisis.” Elsewhere in New York, counties are in charge of waste management — on Long Island, it's up to the towns.

The NAACP argues the crisis is averted by the already-approved Brentwood and Medford waste transfer stations to handle the load once the Brookhaven Landfill closes. The additional Winters’ waste transfer facility in Yaphank would have the capacity to transfer an estimated 1.1 million tons of waste, which would make room to accept garbage from elsewhere in the state.

“There is no crisis,” Grier-Key said. “The Winters’ plan is not pro-environment and there is no reason to turn local land over to the federal government as Winters’ proposes.”

For Winters’ proposal to work, the company needs to finalize how it would use hundreds of acres of industrial property it owns north of the Brookhaven Landfill. Those plans have changed several times before several funding and industrial development agencies — and would require a change to local zoning to pull off, or a waiver from a federal transportation agency.

It’s unclear how Winters plans to proceed with a waste transfer station with no proposal submitted to the Town of Brookhaven. But plans are in the works — according to Winters’ website, the company intends to use some of its property to eventually export waste by freight rail at the Brookhaven Rail Terminal.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.