A bill pushed by Assemblyman Joe DeStefano to protect Long Island’s environmental resources is nearing passage in Albany as legislators agree to impose stiff fines for illegal dumping and make the crime a felony.
The bill comes in the wake of scandals where construction debris from projects in New York City were trucked to various Suffolk County locations, crimes that led to a special grand jury report on strengthening environmental laws, DeStefano said.
“Long Island was a target for unscrupulous operators who used us as a dumping ground for hazardous waste,” DeStefano explained. “We have now focused on this specific crime and made it a felony.”
The legislation was sparked by the discovery of more than 40,000 tons of contaminated material at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood, almost all of it from construction jobs in the city. “This material contained lead, pesticides, asbestos, diesel fuel and other pollutants in levels exceeding state limits,” DeStefano said.
“The crimes had been classified as misdemeanors and enforcement was lax,” the Assemblyman continued. “The operators considered the fines as a cost of doing business and now that has changed. Those choosing to dump on us face felonies and heavy fines thanks to this legislation.”
An investigation known as “Operation Pay Dirt” led to the indictment of 30 individuals and nine corporations for disposing contaminated waste at 24 sites on Long Island. These led to massive cleanup efforts, restitution and the new laws. Under the bill, which DeStefano co-sponsored, illegally disposing of solid waste will be a felony carrying up to a four-year prison sentence. Penalties will increase according to the amount dumped and could run to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The law also requires tracking documents for construction and demolition waste and creates a new crime for scheming to defraud through the improper disposal of solid waste.
“Long Island is blessed with underground drinking water and many other natural resources that we must protect,” DeStefano concluded. “This legislation will go a long way toward stopping illegal dumping in our communities.”
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