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Town of Brookhaven

Satellite image of the 795-acre Brookhaven Calabro Airport. Image from Google Maps

Most couples agree there’s nothing worse than receiving a breakup message on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, that’s the message New York City received Feb. 14 when Amazon said it would no longer build its next headquarters in Queens.

Reactions from Long Island’s elected officials was swift. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said the blame rests on New York’s unfriendliness to business.

“New York’s 1st Congressional District would be happy to be Amazon’s Valentine today and take these 25,000 great-paying jobs,” Zeldin said in a statement. “New York wouldn’t even need all the subsides if we didn’t have one of the worst business climates in the United States. We must level the playing field, reduce taxes and burdensome regulations, stop picking winners.” 

“New York wouldn’t even need all the subsides if we didn’t have one of the worst business climates in the United States.”

— Lee Zeldin

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who were both heavily involved in the Amazon deal, also made public comments lamenting the loss. Meanwhile, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) reaffirmed the town would welcome the retail giant with open arms. 

Now that Amazon is no longer courting New York City, Romaine offered to sign over the 795 acres of Brookhaven Calabro Airport in Shirley if the corporation chooses Brookhaven as a site of their future headquarters. 

“We would close and give them the airport,” he said. “That’s a transfer of property. We’re interested in economic development.”

The town had offered the airport to Amazon before they had originally settled on Queens. The supervisor said the same tax deal proposed by Cuomo is still on the table should the company want to come to the East End of Long Island. The state offered a total of $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits to Amazon, in addition to providing a $505 million capital grant to aid in building its new headquarters. With New York City also pitching in, the total aid package would have been at least $2.8 billion. Romaine said the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency could make up the same amount of aid should Amazon rethink its plans and come back to Long Island.

A representative from the Brookhaven IDA did not respond to requests for comment.

The town supervisor was adamant the airport location was perfect for Amazon’s needs, boasting of its proximity to Sunrise Highway, the Long Island Expressway and William Floyd Parkway. The site is also a few miles away from Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Mastic-Shirley train station. He said the proposed location’s close proximity to the Hamptons, Shoreham and Wading River would be an extra incentive for those looking to make day trips.

“They’re looking for a campus-life situation, and this would provide that,” Romaine said. “If they wanted to they could keep one of the runways for light aircraft. That is totally negotiable.” 

“If they wanted to they could keep one of the runways for light aircraft. That is totally negotiable.”

— Ed Romaine

Despite the pushback the Queens Amazon headquarters received from residents and city politicians, Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said Brookhaven residents are much more open to the idea of a company like Amazon coming in.

“We’re looking for corporate businesses that would create good-paying jobs,” she said. 

Romaine said he knows it’s a long shot, especially with Amazon saying in a Feb. 14 blog post it would not be conducting its new headquarters search again. Instead, the corporation would be looking toward northern Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee, for its new headquarters location.  

“I think it’s worth a shot,” the supervisor said. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

A scene from Steiner's Woods. Photo from Beth Dimino

By David Luces 

A nearly 30-year fight to protect 10 acres of land known in the Sound Beach community as Steiner’s Woods has finally come to an end. 

On Dec. 20, Town of Brookhaven purchased the land for $5 million, effectively preserving the site as open space. 

“Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.”

— Beth Dimino

The stretch of land, situated near Lower Rocky Point Road in Sound Beach, had been owned by Robert Toussie for over 25 years. The Brooklyn-based developer proposed to build up the site as Villages on the Sound, a 15-home development clustered on the northern portion of the property near the bluff, with a single access road extending northward from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

For years, the proposed plans have been marred by environmental and logistical issues raised by town officials and community members. 

Local residents have voiced their concerns the development would have led to more vehicular traffic on existing narrow roads that were already overburdened in the neighborhood. The property also serves as protection for Scott’s Beach, and residents have argued development could have led to negative environmental impacts due to stormwater runoff into the Long Island Sound. 

The woods serve as a natural drainage site and water recharge basin for the surrounding communities, according to an environmental analysis conducted by the town in 1989. If development went through, the town would have spent close to $2 million to mitigate stormwater runoff from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

Sound Beach resident and retired science teacher Beth Dimino, who lives adjacent to the property, is glad the town was able to purchase the site. 

“The woods provide natural drainage in the community,” the Sound Beach resident said. “Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.” 

The 1989 environmental report also stated the trees support the environment and also protect the community from winds from hurricanes and rainstorms. 

Dimino said she has to give credit to Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). 

“She understood the problem and understood the concern of the community,” Dimino said. “I told her it would cost millions to mitigate the water drainage issue. We are indebted to her — she has helped save the environment in that area and it’s going to help preserve the wildlife.”

“The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

— Bea Ruberto

Bonner said this has been a long process, one that started before she took office. 

“This is a win for the community and the Town of Brookhaven,” Bonner said. “It’s a beautiful parcel of land and it’s great that it won’t be developed.”

Bonner said her office has received many positive phone calls from residents who are happy with the recent news. 

Sound Beach Civic Association President Bea Ruberto said the community is elated about the news. 

“I’ve been involved for the past ten years,” she said. “The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

Ruberto said if development went through they would have had to instead fill the ravine, located in the vicinity of Steiner’s Woods, which serves as a drainage point. Filling that would have led to issues of water runoff that normally flows into the area.  

“They would’ve had to mitigate the stormwater and it would’ve cost millions of dollars,” she said.  “If it could be done.”

Bonner points to the advocacy done by local residents and the town as the reason the property was able to be preserved.

“This has been a total group effort,” the councilwoman said. “It’s nice to finally put this to bed.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine announced Dec. 12 that the town received the AAA long-term rating on general obligation bonds from S&P Global. File photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven is on solid footing when it comes to its finances.

On Dec. 12 Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced that S&P Global Ratings, an American financial services company, assigned its top-tier AAA long-term rating to the town’s series 2018A and 2018B general obligation bonds. The municipal bond is one that is secured by a local government’s pledge to use legally available resources, such as tax revenues, to repay bondholders.

“Our financial team has worked hard to achieve this AAA stable rating, but the real winners are the taxpayers who will save millions of dollars in the years ahead,” Romaine said. “We owe it to them to spend their money more wisely.”

S&P Global also affirmed the same rating on the town’s existing bonds. Based on recent local municipal bond sales, it’s been estimated this rating and bond sale has resulted in a $1.65 million savings for taxpayers, according to a press release from Brookhaven township. The town plans to finance construction of ambulance buildings, open-space acquisitions and other infrastructure projects with the bonds. The $20.8 million general obligation bonds will be amortized over 20 years, according to the release.

S&P cited in its AAA ranking a very strong economy, with the town’s access to a broad and diverse metropolitan statistical area and a local stabilizing institutional influence; strong management, with strong financial policies and practices; and solid budgetary performance with operating surpluses in the general fund and at the total government fund level in fiscal 2017. There was also budgetary flexibility and strong liquidity, among others.

According to S&P’s rating announcement, the Brookhaven’s rating is higher than the U.S. 10-year Treasury note. S&P believes “the town can maintain better credit characteristics than the U.S. in a stress scenario.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who is the board liaison to the town’s Department of Finance, said the rating is due to the town’s fiscally conservative ethos.

“The AAA Stable rating is clear evidence that our conservative fiscal policies have made a significant impact, saving taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” Bonner said. “I am proud to continue working with Supervisor Romaine and the finance team to help build on the success that we have already achieved.”

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) credited the board with working toward balancing the budget and responsible fiscal management.

“We tackle this process with the goal of continuous improvement,” Cartright said. “Receiving the highest bond rating, once again, is a reflection of this effort.”

Thousands packed Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai for the Town of Brookhaven’s ninth Polar Plunge, an annual event in which brave souls dive into icy waters to raise money for the Special Olympics. All funds raised by the event go toward sports training and competition, health and inclusion programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities looking to compete.

Voters heading to the polls Nov. 6 who live in the Town of Brookhaven will find this proposition on the back of their ballots.

Brookhaven Town residents will have to flip over their ballots Nov. 6 to respond to a referendum pertaining to councilmembers’ terms in office, but they’d have to do backflips in the voting booth to be able to respond to the two-part question which allows for a single “yes” or “no” answer.

After a public hearing featuring speakers mostly in opposition in August, Brookhaven’s board unanimously moved to proceed with establishing a referendum on the back of this year’s ballot, an off year for Brookhaven’s representatives.

“Should the town code of the Town of Brookhaven be amended to establish term limits of three (3) four-year terms for elected officials, and amend the length of term of office from two (2) years to four (4) years for all elected officials commencing January 1, 2020?” the referendum will read verbatim.

Despite there being two components to the question, voters can only respond “yes” or “no.” The wording of the referendum was written by the town’s Law Department, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto.

When asked why they wanted to expand terms from two to four years councilmembers and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) in interviews and during the hearing offered similar, admittedly understandable explanations for the change. Having to campaign and fundraise for elections every two years is laborious, and makes getting things done difficult once in office, they said — both the Republicans and the board’s lone Democrat. While we can see how this would be a problem, we’d prefer to see adjustments to campaign finance law, requiring less fundraising and allowing more time for actual legislative work, before going with a solution that results in voters having less frequent opportunities to express their opinions.

Issues could be raised and conspiracy theories crafted for the motivation of the Town Board to advance a referendum like this during an otherwise ordinary August meeting based on the fact more than one member of the current board is nearing 12 years in office. If passed, based on the wording, term limits would begin to be instituted on councilmembers beginning in 2020, meaning years already served will not have started their clocks. Fair or unfair, the process did nothing to squash those theories. And even without those issues, there is still no way to reconcile that putting a referendum with perplexing verbiage before town voters will somehow yield the will of the people.

This is not to mention an additional element — that in 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three, four-year terms on elected officials in Brookhaven thanks to a referendum, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts, as state law dictates councilmembers in towns with council districts serve two-year terms, according to Emily Pines, Romaine’s chief of staff and a former New York State Supreme Court justice, who spoke during the August hearing. That interpretation has been questioned by many and could conceivably lead to a lawsuit if the referendum passes.

Add it all up and the answer became clear to our editorial staff: We’ll be voting “no” on Proposal One.

Brookhaven’s single-stream recycling facility in Yaphank. File photo by Clayton Collier

By Alex Petroski & Sara-Megan Walsh

Recyclable materials have been building up at the Brookhaven Town recycling plant in Yaphank ever since China stopped accepting imports from American facilities in January, but the future of the facility is even more up in the air now.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said contractor Green Stream Recycling terminated its 25-year contract to operate the Yaphank facility effective Oct. 29 citing financial woes due to market changes. The company signed the agreement with the town in 2013.

“We’re a regional facility — for them to do that it certainly isn’t going to speak well of the future of their waste management business on Long Island,” Romaine said.

The town plans to pursue legal action against the contractor for breach of contract, according to the supervisor.

Green Stream Recycling, owned by principals Joe Winters and Anthony Core, also of Hudson Baylor Brookhaven LLC, did not return a phone call requesting comment.

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Romaine said the town will be putting the contract out for an emergency bid Nov. 1 for a new facility operator, and the town board will select a replacement at a Nov. 2 special meeting.

“They had three years of very good profits, and then as you know more recently there have been changes obviously in the recycling market where most of our recycling goods went,” Romaine said. 

The terms of contract with Green Stream Recycling yielded $20 per ton of processed recyclables, a quarter of which went back to Brookhaven with the remaining 75 percent
redistributed to neighboring municipalities that had agreements with Brookhaven to send their recyclables to the Yaphank facility, Romaine said. The supervisor said the town hadn’t received any money from Green Stream since May, though Brookhaven has continued making payments to other municipalities.

“The Town of Brookhaven believes very strongly in the benefits that a municipal recycling program brings to our respective communities and hence the reason we continued acceptance and payment for the material received from the Town of Huntington,” Romaine wrote in an Oct. 23 letter to Huntington Supervisor Chad
Lupinacci (R).

Similar letters were also sent to Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and the other municipalities that have single-stream recycling agreements with Brookhaven.

John Clark, director of Environmental Waste Management for the Town of Huntington, said the town was previously informed Aug. 23 Brookhaven would not renew the intermunicipal agreement to accept Huntington’s collected recyclables set to expire at the end of this year. Under the terms of the agreement, Huntington received up to $15 per ton of recyclable material delivered to the Yaphank facility.

In 2017, Huntington collected and delivered more than 14,000 tons of material to the single-stream recycling plant that was processed through the intermunicipal agreement. This resulted in more than $152,000 in net revenue, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

The town had already issued a request for proposals Oct. 18 in an attempt to find an alternative solution to start Jan. 1, 2019, which may include converting back to dual-stream recycling where residents may be held responsible for sorting their trash again.

The news of Green Stream Recycling ending its contract with Brookhaven will pose only a temporary issue for Huntington, Lembo noted.

“The Town of Brookhaven believes very strongly in the benefits that a municipal recycling program brings to our respective communities and hence the reason we continued acceptance and payment for the material received from the Town of Huntington.”

— Ed Romaine

“We are already in the process of reaching out to potential recycling vendors and other municipalities to execute a two-month agreement that would get us through the end of the year under our single-stream recycling mode,” Lembo said.

Russ Barnett, Smithtown’s environmental protection director, said the town had received a telephone call from Brookhaven Oct. 19 to immediately cease sending recyclables to Brookhaven’s Yaphank facility. Smithtown’s town board plans to issue an emergency request for proposals at its Oct. 25 meeting seeking a new contractor to cart and process its residents’ recyclables, according to spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. It’s unclear what if any impact this may have on Smithtown’s tentative 2019 budget.

“Residents should continue doing what they are doing right now,” Barnett said. “We’re not asking residents to make any changes.”

Smithtown Town plans to temporarily store all collected materials at its Municipal Services Facility on Old Northport Road in Kings Park until a new carter is found. A new recyclable operator could mean a move back to dual-stream recycling.

“We’ve got a broad solicitation out there to identify what our options might be,” Barnett said. “Whether we will be offered services as an unsorted single-stream recyclables for sorting and purification elsewhere, or whether or not people might propose that prior sorting [by residents] needs to be done.”

A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement the agency is working with Brookhaven and the other towns impacted to develop solutions that will allow for processing of existing materials at the site and long-term solutions to continue recycling in the region, as well as working with industry stakeholders to solve the problem of drying up markets for the recycled material.

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On Long Island, the cost of property taxes weighs heavily on many people’s minds. In Brookhaven, the town is working with villages, schools, libraries, and other special districts to consolidate municipal services, which should lead to savings for homeowners. Any initiative to save taxpayers money is a worthwhile endeavor in our book.

After a two-year long process, New York State recently awarded Town of Brookhaven a $20 million grant for its application as part of the Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition. The grant is a byproduct of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) attempts to cut costs, share services and streamline inefficiencies in order to reduce property taxpayers’ burdens statewide.

In a field of finalists that were all upstate counties other than Brookhaven, the town came out on top, and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) wasted no time in gathering representatives from villages, ambulance and fire districts, school districts and library districts to create a Council of Governments Committee. On Oct. 10 the council met to discuss the best practices of governance, shared services and intermunicipal opportunities expected to come from the $20 million cash influx.

Due to his leadership qualities and ability to work across party lines, we have confidence that Romaine has the ability to implement the money in an effective way. Project proposals have included using town contracts to buy in bulk things like asphalt replacement, which can save money for villages since the town can get a better price due to its size. Villages such as Port Jefferson could benefit not only from highway services but a town purchasing portal, electronic records management and storage.

While we know the council is in good hands, we hope the committee will take a serious look at how to run each agency more efficiently, even if some are not consolidated, and we also have suggestions for the future.

In addition to implementing current plans established during the grant application stage, the council hopes to explore possible other future initiatives. As the town moves forward, one suggestion we have with any potential plans is to call on local village officials and district heads to organize public meetings where residents can attend and discuss their concerns with town officials or brainstorm suggestions.

We also hope that Brookhaven will lead the way for other municipalities outside its scope. While we know not every town has the privilege of a $20 million grant, after implementing changes in Brookhaven, we hope to see town leaders reach out to other towns in Suffolk County for examples and suggestions to save their residents money.

The chance to save taxpayers money has the potential to cross town lines in the next few years.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella along with leaders from dozens of other districts attend the first meeting of Brookhaven’s Council of Governments Committee, a group aiming to reduce taxes through sharing services across taxing districts. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

The committee’s title sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, but Brookhaven Town’s plan to streamline government services is nonfiction and slated for the nearer future than a galaxy far, far away.

Brookhaven Town hall was the setting for the inaugural Council of Governments Committee meeting, a congregation of representatives from across the town’s villages, ambulance and fire, school and library districts Oct. 10. The leaders came together to begin brainstorming strategies to make government more efficient by sharing services with the goal of reducing costs for their mutual taxpayers. The meeting was hosted by Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and was attended by representatives from the Villages of Belle Terre, Shoreham and Port Jefferson; Setauket Fire District; Port Jefferson EMS; Comsewogue, Port Jefferson, Emma S. Clark, and Middle Country libraries; and Shoreham-Wading River, Comsewogue, Port Jefferson and Rocky Point school districts among many others.

Brookhaven was recently awarded a $20 million Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition grant by New York State, which will go toward modernizing and reinventing the delivery of services while reducing the burden on taxpayers by reducing redundancy in local governments, pursuing opportunities for increasing shared services, and implementing modernizations and best practices, according to a town press release. The committee will be charged with implementing the changes and identifying additional areas for efficiency and fiscal savings, as well as providing oversight of the 16 MCEC projects.

“We’re interested today in talking about what we can do jointly for our mutual constituents to improve the delivery of services, to reduce costs, to share services whenever possible — to do the things that are going to move this town, your school district, your village, your taxing district forward so that our mutual constituents benefit from this,” Romaine said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to redesign how we do things. This is one opportunity where we can reach across jurisdictional lines and say we’re all in this together.”

Engineering firm Laberge Group has served as a consultant for the town’s municipal consolidation plans, and representatives Ben Syden and Nicole Allen were on hand at the committee meeting to update the attendees on the status of some of the projects already underway.

“A year and a half ago, we asked for your hope, we asked for you to say, ‘yup, I may be interested in doing this,’” Syden said during the meeting. “Now, we have pilots, we have examples and now we want to deploy this townwide.”

The projects will be implemented over a span of two to three years, according to Syden, and the full implementation of the projects is expected to save more than $60 million collectively amongst the taxing districts over five years.

The dissolution of the Village of Mastic Beach and reincorporation into the town, the consolidation of 24 of the town’s 112 special districts including four water districts into the Suffolk County Water Authority and six erosion control districts consolidated into one are among the already completed projects undertaken as part of the MCEC project. Upcoming projects include the consolidation of property tax collection and processing systems with several villages including Port Jefferson and Shoreham, construction of a regional salt storage facility, purchase of regional specialized fleet equipment, expansion of single-stream recycling waste management services to six special districts throughout the town and many more.

Brookhaven’s current pump-out boats are showing signs of wear and will be replaced. Photo by Kyle Barr

If you’ve ever seen a boat with a built-in toilet, the next question is inevitable: Where does that waste inevitably go?

Either the waste goes straight into the Long Island Sound or surrounding harbors or boaters call the Town of Brookhaven’s pump-out boats, a service provided by the town for free, to suck out the waste, according to Karl Guyer, a senior bay constable for Brookhaven.

At Brookhaven town’s Sept. 13 meeting the board voted unanimously to purchase two new pump-out boats — one for Mount Sinai Harbor and one for Port Jefferson Harbor. The total cost for both boats is $92,500 with $60,000 of that amount coming from state aid in grant funding from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation. The town is supplying $32,500 in matching funds from serial bonds, according to town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

The town operates four pump-out boats, including two on the South Shore and two on the North Shore, which are located in Port Jeff and Mount Sinai harbors. All these boats were purchased in 2006, and Guyer said it was time all of them were replaced. The two on the South Shore were replaced this year, and the North Shore boats will be replaced early in 2019, according to Guyer.

“They’ve been in service for quite a number of years and they’re at the end of their life span,” Guyer said.

The pump-out boat in Port Jeff Harbor is showing signs of long use. The paint on the boat’s deck has been worn down by years of work, and there are cracks showing in some of the plastic hatches around the boat. William Demorest, the bay constable for Port Jeff Harbor, said the new boats will be made from aluminum, which should give them a longer life span.

The pump-out boat service is widely used by the boaters in both harbors, and on a busy day town employees operating the boats can service hundreds of boats in a single day. People can call for a pump out by radioing the constable’s office on channel 73.

There is a manual boat waste pump in a barge inside Port Jeff Harbor, though the constable said 75 percent of the over 700 boats that come to port on summer weekends use the pump-out boat service. After the pump-out boats are docked for the winter, all North Shore boaters are required to manually pump out their own waste.

Bonner said these boats do a major service in cleaning out the tanks of many boaters, because dumping the waste into the coastal waters only adds to the islands growing water pollution problem.

“Not only would there be waste in the water but the nitrogen load would be crazy,” Bonner said. “It would take several tides to flush that out.”

All the water from Conscience Bay through Port Jefferson Harbor as well as the entire Long Island Sound is within mandated U.S. Environmental Protection Agency No-Discharge Zones, meaning it is illegal to dump any boat waste into the surrounding waters.

While Demorest said he hasn’t seen people dumping their waste into the water himself, he has heard reports of it being done. He said he believed the vast majority use the free pump-out service.

“If we don’t see it, there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.

Many areas of the North Shore are experiencing waves of hypoxia, an increase of nitrogen in the water that deprives sea life, both plants and animals, of oxygen. During a press conference Sept. 25, co-director of the Center for Clean Water Technology Christopher Gobler and other researchers from the Long Island Clean Water Partnership concluded there were cases of harmful algae blooms in harbors from Mount Sinai all the way to Huntington, another symptom of excess nitrogen in the water. Most of that nitrogen has come from cesspools and septic tanks from people’s homes slowly leaking into the surrounding waters.

The boats usually operate Friday, Saturday and Sunday mostly by high school and college-aged summer employees, according to Guyer. The pump-out boat service ends on Columbus Day, Oct. 8.

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August 2018. Brookhaven has since returned to dual stream recycling. Photo from Town of Smithtown

It’s a rubbish time to be involved in the recycling industry.

The Town of Brookhaven’s recycling plant is grappling with unprecedented mounds of bottles, used paper goods and trash. Ever since China implemented its “National Sword” policy in January banning the import of various nonindustrial plastics, paper and other solid wastes, Brookhaven’s had a hard time selling off collected recyclable materials. As China was one of the top buyers of U.S. recyclables according to NPR, this move has left many Suffolk townships unsure what to do with their residents’ recycled garbage.

To recycle or not: Tips  on handling your trash

By Kyle Barr

Operators of the Brookhaven recycling plant deal with a lot of junk. Not the good kind of junk, however, as many household items that residents assume can be recycled can cause havoc in the machinery.

In the four years since the town invested in single-stream recycling,  Erich Weltsek, a recycling coordination aid for Brookhaven, said there has been increased resident participation in the recycling program. But it has also led to some residents chucking in items that have no business being recycled.

We’ve gotten chunks of concrete, and you even get sports balls — like soccer balls, footballs — constantly,” he said. “A lot of what we call ‘wish cycling,’ where people think they’re doing the right thing and when in doubt they throw it in a recycle bin instead of the right receptacle.”

Weltsek said people have tried to recycle Coleman outdoor stoves and propane tanks, which is extremely dangerous and could result in an explosion at the facility.

The most pervasively disruptive items are plastic bags and other items that Weltsek called “tanglers,” such as Christmas tree lights, pool liners and garden hoses. The recycling facility operates on a number of conveyor belts that first feed into a device called a star screen, a number of rotating cylinders with feet that separate recyclable fibers from other items. These items either wrap around the wheels on the conveyor belt or star screen, either letting fibers through the wrong end or stopping the machine entirely.

Suffolk residents should clean out any plastic bottles or cans before putting them in the recycling. Any low-quality paper products or grease-stained cardboard such as used pizza boxes, should not be recycled because they affect the sellable quality of the entire recycling bundle.

Andrade said all plastic bags should be recycled at a local supermarket, which are mandated by New York State law to have a receptacle for all shopping bags.

The plant often has to turn away other nonrecyclable material, such as plastic utensils, bottle caps and Styrofoam. All of these are considered contaminants, either because they cannot be recycled properly, or they
dilute the quality of the material.

“While it hasn’t stopped it, China’s new policies have significantly slowed down the ability of recyclers to move material to market,” said  Christopher Andrade, commissioner of Brookhaven Town’s waste management department. “There are domestic mills and domestic markets [but] the thing is just finding them, negotiating them and moving the material.”

That is easier said than done, according to Andrade, as many recycling plants across the nation now have fewer options of where to sell their collected goods. China has publicly claimed the decision has to do with the quality of the materials, as low-quality newspaper print or thin PVC plastics are not considered valuable enough for reuse. There’s also the problem of recyclables being mixed with other, nonreusable garbage.

In 2014, Brookhaven moved from dual-stream to single-stream recycling, a system that allows residents to put out all their recyclables in a single can to be sorted out at the town’s facilities instead of bringing out a different material — plastic, papers or metal — every other week. This increased overall participation in the recycling program, Andrade said, but has led to some confusion.

The loss of the Chinese market has severely interrupted the Brookhaven-owned Green Stream Recycling facility’s outflow. Green Stream Recycling LLC, a company that contracts with the town and operates the town’s facility in Yaphank, made good use of China’s market. While the facility continues to operate without a definitive answer to where else the company can move its materials, some of it is now going back into the landfill, according to Andrade.

This crisis is not only affecting the Town of Brookhaven, but other municipalities on Long Island which sell their collected recyclables to Suffolk County’s largest township. In 2014, the Town of Smithtown formed a five-year contract with Brookhaven to send 12,000 tons of garbage to the Green Stream facility,  in return for $180,000 per year. While Brookhaven continues to honor the agreements with its partnered municipalities, the lack of market availability for recyclables has some members of Smithtown Town Board concerned.

At a Sept. 4 work session, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) showed board members a photo taken by a drone in May showing recyclables piled in heaps just outside Brookhaven’s facility. The picture made Wehrheim and other board members question what might become of the town’s current recycling agreement.

“At one point, we’re going to come to some decision what to do with [Brookhaven Town,] Wehrheim said. “It could be a potential problem … in the short term.”

Andrade said that excess dumping on the facility’s land came from the “shock” of China’s National Sword policy being implemented earlier this year, though he said the situation has since been brought under control. Despite these international issues, Andrade said Brookhaven remains committed to recycling.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) “and the board believe very strongly in recycling, and we’ll bounce back from this,” he said.

The markets are being overwhelmed; the people taking the material can be picky on what they accept. We’re going to have to respond by being better at only putting out the things that people can actually reuse.”

— Russell Barnett

Russell Barnett, Smithtown’s environmental protection director in the Department of Environment and Waterways, said he is working on a solution with Brookhaven, including a regional approach comprising Smithtown, Huntington, Southold and several other communities that are partnered with Brookhaven.

Smithtown had its own dual-stream facility that was closed before it started sending its materials to Brookhaven in 2014, though reopening it could be costly.

“We’re assessing our equipment — seeing what’s operational, what’s not, what repairs need to be made and what upgrades need to be made if the occasion comes up that we want to go that route,” Barnett said.

In the meantime, he said residents need to be more discriminating when it comes to deciding what items to recycle. Otherwise, it will be much harder in the future to find a buyer for the world’s recyclable garbage.

“When they talk about the standard, they’re not just talking about nonrecyclable material
but the right kind of recyclable material.” Barnett said. “The markets are being overwhelmed; the people taking the material can be picky on what they accept. We’re going to have to respond by being better at only putting out the things that people can actually reuse.”