© 2023 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Committee: Brookhaven Landfill Should Close, Not Expand Long Island Waste Operations

John Minchillo

A Brookhaven Town environmental committee has rejected the proposed expansion of an ash landfill to handle the growing solid waste crisis on Long Island.

The Brookhaven landfill is expected to reach capacity by 2024. The committee recommended in a report released Friday that the landfill be closed at or before then. Instead, they said the town should outsource solid waste collection and disposal to a private industry while the town retains fiscal and regulatory control over the process.

“This would be a positive economic gain for Long Island. Instead of exporting Long Island dollars, the dollars stay in Long Island,” the report said. “Long Island not only maintains efficient-cost disposal but also benefits from new jobs, new lower cost of aggregate to be used in construction and created a circular waste economy.”

The committee report — made up of waste management organizations, environmentalists, public safety officials and civic groups — outlines the five potential waste management scenarios that have been proposed by the town. This includes a new ash fill site, transfering all waste off Long Island by truck or rail, relocating residential waste to a different landfill site, and a zero-waste option. The committee said “no credible solution will yield only positive results.”

A new ash fill site would continue the town’s trash-to-ash operation of burning solid waste from most of central Suffolk County to produce energy and disposing of the ash in a landfill.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine has called for a regional approach to handling over 700,000 tons of solid waste and 350,000 tons of ash deposits, calling for innovative ways for residents to dispose of garbage rather than just burning or storing in landfills.

Objections towards the proposed five-acre ash fill site in Yaphank are rooted in the negative effects the burning of garbage would have on nearby residential neighborhoods. Advocates and environmentalists question whether the waste management proposals would have a dangerous impact on air, noise, and water quality in the surrounding area.

“The closest building to the residential area we’re seeing as a gatehouse or an office and so how far in from the road are the trucks stopping? Are they stopping and starting? Are they stopping and idling? Because I’m worried about that noise, that exhaust,” Brookhaven resident Kelly Lange told the town board on Feb. 11, during a public hearing on the application for a new waste transfer station in Medford — one of three proposed transfer sites.

Educators, elected officials and nearby residents near a similar transfer station proposed in Brentwood have criticised the plan to truck in waste through neighborhoods, and the long-term public health concerns of waste disposal in the community.

“The history of the Brookhaven Town Landfill makes it clear that Yaphank, Bellport and Brookhaven did not volunteer to be the garbage capital of Long Island,” the committee report said, echoing long standing community complaints.

The report shifts blame on to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for not offering or providing a viable solid waste solution for Brookhaven, or any other community on Long Island, despite holding several roundtable discussions to address the growing problem.

“DEC has not been as active as it needs to be to bring together the forces that could help alleviate the serious challenges the region has to dispose of waste,” the report said.

The committee also acknowledged a Suffolk County report in 2006 with similar recommendations that, if the region acted on over the last 15 years, would have been well developed by 2024 — when the permitting for the Brookhaven landfill is expected to expire.

“The town board's jurisdiction is land use,” Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto said. “The DEC has jurisdiction over this site. This material travels interstate.”

State environmental law requires towns to review the environmental impact of proposed development on properties. The DEC is allowed to give input on projects if the proposal falls within state property and jurisdiction. These environmental impact studies are submitted publically to town planners who work to refine the scope of their project.

The report bolster testimony submitted the week before on the Medford transfer site. Residents are concerned about a lack of transparency and public input in the process of finding a waste management solution.

The town had released part of the developers' application in Medford, including a site map and overview, which was criticized by advocacy groups and residents during the public hearing.

“This lack of public information available prior to a public hearing, speaks to the lack of public input in the creation of any waste management plan,” said Kermin Odekon, of the Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group.

“My concern is, we need a series of public hearings, not just one today. There needs to be a real public input in these waste proposals. Otherwise this just becomes a transaction between business and the town board without the robust public input that it deserves because it will impact our lives down the line,” added Shoshana Hershkowitz, of Suffolk Progressives.

They said officials have had a cavalier approach to addressing waste management. The committee report said finding a solution is difficult because of the region’s geography — Long Island is an island. And that not one change is the be-all and end-all solution.

“It’s going to be a good project,” said Tim Shea, attorney for the Medford property developer. “It will help with the garbage crisis, it’s just a small step in the right direction.”