Long Island state lawmakers introduced sweeping legislation Wednesday that would make it easier to prosecute and punish individuals suspected of illegally dumping hazardous and toxic materials while better protecting the region's sole-source aquifer.
The bipartisan legislation would create a host of new laws to target the illegal disposal, possession and acceptance of solid waste and hazardous materials while amending existing laws that lawmakers say are insufficient and fail to protect the public and environment.
"With our proximity to the city, Suffolk County all too often has become a dumping ground for construction and demolition projects in the city," said Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini at a news conference in Hauppauge. "It is expensive to properly dispose of solid waste, particularly when it includes hazardous or acutely hazardous materials … And so bad actors, in an effort to line their pockets with money, will break the law."
The legislation stems from a report, unsealed last week, by a special Suffolk grand jury that was empaneled in July 2018 to investigate illegal dumping and other environmental crimes on Long Island.
The grand jury's findings were born out of "Operation Pay Dirt." The joint investigation by Sini's office and the state Department of Environmental Conservation led to a 130-count indictment — the largest bust in the state's history for the illegal dumping of construction and demolition debris — with prosecutors charging nine corporations and 30 individuals with illegally disposing of contaminated waste at 24 sites in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
The report also suggested a number of legislative and regulatory changes that were included in the bill by State Senate and Assembly lawmakers.
The measure creates a host of new felony and misdemeanor statutes, including the criminal disposal and aggravated criminal disposal of solid waste and hazardous material; scheming to defraud by disposing of the materials; criminal possession of solid waste; and the criminal acceptance of solid waste or construction debris material, hazardous substances or acutely hazardous substances.
The legislation also targets the lucrative business of mining for sand, which is used to create cement, and increases criminal penalties based on the nature and amount of the hazardous substance that is dumped and by its proximity to the region's drinking water.
Existing legislation would be strengthened to require "cradle-to-grave" documentation of solid waste, construction and demolition material.
"The communities that are being impacted by this are underserved communities," said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), the bill's lead sponsor. "People are not going to fancy areas of Suffolk County and dumping in their parks and in their lawns."