When Brookhaven Town announced on March 4 that it was ending its plan to construct a regional municipal ashfill at the Yaphank site, reasons included its cost, receiving only one RFP, and the burden on the community as stated in the town's AD HOC committee's Brookhaven Ashfill Exploratory Report.
But the town board decision also formed an opening to create a sustainable plan for waste, said Abena Asare.
“Even if the town said they backed off, it’s not enough,” Asare said. “Environmental and social justice offers processes for these things not to happen. What is the town landfill cleanup?”
Asare is among the founders of the Brookhaven Town Landfill Action & Remediation Group.
Hannah Thomas, Monique Fitzgerald and Dennis Nix, residents from North Bellport, started BLARG. Asare, Kerim Odekon and Michele Mendez, who live in the surrounding area, then partnered up. They met with the Long Island Advance at the North Bellport Community Garden over the weekend.
The group began challenging the town last year, explained Fitzgerald. They’ve made FOIL requests for information from town, state and county agencies and read critical reports documenting statistics and data. They invited government officials to meet with them, including Suffolk Count Legislature presiding officer Rob Calarco and assemblyman Steve Englebright (some haven’t, some not yet, they said), as well as industry leaders. They now host a weekly meeting on Zoom.
“They reached out to us and I went to a couple of meetings as an individual,” said Tom Williams, a member of the town’s ad hoc committee on the ashfill appointed by the town supervisor. (Williams said their committee started working on their findings last September.) “They have unearthed an enormous amount of information. It’s impressive and can help all of us,” Williams added of BLARG.
Fitzgerald said the group started after George Floyd’s murder. “We got involved with the Black Lives Movement, and to protect Black lives,” said Fitzgerald. “We know the landfill is one of the major affecting factors on our lives.”
Nix, a former Town of Brookhaven Waste Management staffer, said he was disabled from working at the landfill.
Asare said there are now 200 people on their distribution list. “We created a letter to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation leaders as well as [Brookhaven] supervisor Ed Romaine and the town board with documented information requesting the closure and remediation of the Brookhaven Landfill,” she said. “We have 65 organizations throughout Brookhaven Town who endorsed the letter.”
The weekly Zoom meetings have attracted up to 50 people on average, Asare said.
Romaine has stated he hopes to see PSEG LI build a substation on five acres for solar expansion.
“I’m all for solar, but what about cleaning up of the water?” said Fitzgerald.
“We’ll still get ash until 2024,” added Thomas, a longtime activist and 50-year North Bellport resident, of the town’s projected closing. “What’s happening with the ash and toxins in the meantime?”
Teachers at Frank P. Long Intermediate School have reported noxious odors from the landfill for years; smells that permeate the building despite closed windows, at times burning eyes and aggravating asthma conditions. The landfill, a mile away, is well within the school’s sightline. DEC independent monitors come, teachers have said in the past, but they don’t stay long and report there aren’t odors.
Thomas noted there was a movement to close the Frank P. Long Intermediate School because of cancer deaths. “Community-wise, something has to be wrong,” she said. Over 2,400 signatures have been amassed through a Change. org petition to close the school. They are still coming in.
Brookhaven Town has said they’ve done extensive capping, have an extensive odor-control gas collection system, and respond to complaints.
But health trends are troubling.
According to a Suffolk County Health Assessment Report for 2014-2017, in zip codes with the 10 highest emergency room visit rates for asthma for all ages, North Bellport rates are second, behind Wyandanch.
North Bellport, adjacent to the landfill
is also reported to have the lowest life-expectancy rate on Long Island, according to a 2018 Center for Disease Control National Center for Health statistics.
The February Ashfill Exploratory Report issued by Brookhaven Town’s ad hoc committee points out that the state DEC hasn’t been as active as it needs to be to help alleviate the problem the region has in waste disposal and that the town shouldn’t be alone in the effort. “It is also an unfair burden for Yaphank, South Haven, Horizon Village, Bellport and Brookhaven to bear the burden of waste disposal for the vast majority of the Long Island region,” it said. “Odor is primarily caused by the release of hydrogen sulfide, which can carry bacteria, fungi and potentially volatile organic compounds. Also, many homes had to be connected to public water due to the plume from cells 1 through 4. At least 25 residents and teachers from Frank P. Long School have filed a lawsuit on nuisance claims and health impacts. Creating an ashfill may continue to alarm and impact these communities and the school.”
Odekon cited cities around the country that have signed up for zero-waste plans: Minneapolis, Minn.; Oakland, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; Seattle, Wash.; San Francisco, Calif.; Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, Texas; Carrboro, N.C.; Kaua’I, Hawaii; San Diego and Los Angeles, Calif.; Boulder and Fort Collins, Colo.; and recently New York City.
“When they make that commitment, it goes forward,” he said.
Romaine was asked if BLARG’s involvement, besides the ad hoc committee’s findings, helped with the town board’s decision not to proceed with the ashfill project, and would he consider a zero-waste management plan.
According to town spokesman Kevin Molloy in an email: “No. The decision was made based upon the projected cost for the facility and the impacts it may have had on the surrounding community. The town board is supportive of zero waste, and the supervisor spoke extensively about this most recently at LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action) last week.”
Some of the suggestions included in the PowerPoint presentation include exploring ‘Pay as you Throw’ programs, expanding composting opportunities, investing in widespread education and requiring federal and state support. The presentation also suggested an Extended Producer Responsibility bill, among other actions.