Piling On: LI Compost and the DEC

There’s already a permanent structure that surrounds all the organic material handled at Great Gardens. It’s called the atmosphere.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued its analysis of hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking”, in September of this year with the public comment period open until Dec. 12. The proposed regulations tackle what is arguably the most important environmental issue the already resource-poor DEC will have to wrangle with in decades.

Add this massive undertaking to the growing list of caustic environmental and public health hazards New York has to contend with and the DEC has its work cut out for it. Rampant groundwater contamination, an aging and dilapidated sewage treatment infrastructure, thousands of contaminated industrial sites, toxic air pollutants related to everything from crematories and incinerators to portable fuel containers and vehicle emissions from traffic congestion all fall under the purview of the overworked, underfunded DEC. Now the agency is being tasked with potentially overseeing thousands of proposed drilling sites that run throughout upstate New York’s portion of the Marcellus Shale.

It is within this context that I draw your attention to the current bête noire of the DEC here on Long Island having nothing to do with fracking but everything to do with how the DEC thinks and operates. The Great Gardens facility in Yaphank owned by Long Island Compost, an organization that I have covered closely the past couple of years, has come under fire in recent months for its practices. In response to complaints made primarily by two residents who live adjacent to the commercial site, the DEC is attempting to modify the permit by requiring the operator to enclose the entire operation in order to halt all “odors and dust emanating” from the facility. The modification would effectively put Great Gardens out of business.

Seems simple enough. Preventing malodourous, noxious dust from a large waste transfer facility from drifting into a residential area seems like something everyone can get behind. It already has the support of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the DEC and a handful of local legislators. Even Newsday’s editorial page threw its support behind the residents, saying: “The agency seems justified in tightening the rules. For the sake of the long-suffering neighbors, we hope the appeals process and some ultimate resolution will not drag on for many more months.”

But it’s not that simple. This is one of those situations where the devil is in the details and the logic of all those who stand in opposition to the activities conducted at Great Gardens is flawed and rife with inconsistencies.

Allow me first to dismiss the technical arguments. The residents are not wrong to be concerned about the air quality in their immediate living space. Unfortunately for them their properties are adjacent to a facility that is zoned for industrial use and permitted as a solid-waste transfer station. Moreover, both the residents and the Great Gardens facility are in the shadow of the towering Brookhaven Town landfill, which was present long before Great Gardens began operating or the residents moved in. If you buy a home less than one mile from a landfill, you cannot feign ignorance regarding the potential health effects of this location.

Unless you have been to the facility, it’s difficult to imagine. Essentially, it’s a city of dirt, or finished compost to be exact. Organic material from yard waste to food finds its way to Great Gardens, where it is sorted and dispersed to a network of farms for composting. Once the material has entirely broken down, the farms have the option of taking either a payment for their participation or a portion of the compost for their own requirements. The Long Island Farm Bureau and the farmers themselves have lauded this arrangement, because rich, organic compost on that scale is expensive and hard to come by. The finished compost is then hauled back to Yaphank to be bagged and sold back into the marketplace.

You grow it and mow it, then throw it out. Great Gardens puts it all back together again and the cycle continues. It is quite possibly one of the most environmentally important and truly regenerative practices on the Island. Here’s the problem: compost stinks. Anyone who composts at home can tell you that.

The DEC has dismissed the vast majority of the complaints regarding this facility. Now it is suddenly and capriciously attempting to modify its permit by repealing a waiver it had granted Great Gardens, which was given because the original rule as written only contemplated refuse, not organic yard waste. There’s already a permanent structure that surrounds all the organic material handled at Great Gardens. It’s called the atmosphere. Enclosing this facility to contain the dust is like putting a roof over Central Park to prevent oxygen from escaping.

The bigger problem with the DEC’s action is that it ignores its own responsibility. In 1988, the New York State Legislature passed the Solid Waste Management Act, which “mandates that all municipalities in the state adopt a local law or ordinance… requiring that solid waste be separated into recyclable, reusable or other components.” It specifically references “Composting of Organic Waste – The process occurs naturally and is a critical component to soil health.” Essentially, Great Gardens and other facilities like it were legislated into existence.

Then there is the financial impact that favors local taxpayers. By Brookhaven Town’s own figures, it saves approximately $1 million annually by outsourcing its composting operations to Great Gardens.

I completely understand the frustration of the neighboring residents. And because I take a dim view of most politicians, I’m hardly surprised that a few have decided to jump on the anti-composting bandwagon. And, unfortunately, I no longer expect to find much wisdom in the editorial pages of Newsday. What I have a huge problem with is the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

The fact that CCE is effectively trying to halt the operation of a facility that takes organic material out of the waste stream by the ton, allows it to break down through natural processes and returns it to the market as a finished, organic product is ludicrous and shameful. Casting aspersions on a property that is the manifestation of our best legislative intent to provide for a more sustainable future is disingenuous at best.

Should we side with two local residents and sacrifice the greater good or allow the operation to continue and ignore their legitimate health concerns? The former feels more human – the “right thing” to do. The latter seems more Machiavellian, where we decide as a community that a couple of eggs will be broken while making this omelet. I don’t see it this way. It doesn’t have to be Long Island’s environmental equivalent of Sophie’s Choice.

This is a question of leadership that falls directly on Mark Lesko’s lap as Brookhaven Town Supervisor. Because Brookhaven allowed residential and industrial zoning to exist in such tight proximity, the town has the responsibility of dealing with these consequences. Lesko and the town board should act as expeditiously as possible to reach an arrangement with the two residents next to Great Gardens to purchase their homes and facilitate their relocations.

There. Wasn’t that easy? This solution would allow the DEC, CCE and every other acronym responsible for the environment to focus on stopping things like hydraulic fracturing that really hurt the planet instead of trying to shut down something that we can all benefit from.

Author: Jed Morey

Jed Morey is the publisher of the Long Island Press, LI's Cultural Arts and Investigative News Journal. The Press has a monthly circulation of 100,000, and www.longislandpress.com, welcomes more than 500,000 unique visitors every month. He serves on the board of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Nassau County, as well as the President's Council of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Long Island. In addition to the contributions on this blog, Morey authors a column for the Long Island Press titled "Off The Reservation" and is a staunch advocate for Indian rights. The column was voted Best Column in New York by the NY Press Association in 2010 and third overall in the nation among alternative publications by the Association of Alternative Weeklies in 2012. Morey lives in Glen Cove with his wife, Eden White, and their two daughters.

17 thoughts on “Piling On: LI Compost and the DEC”

  1. There are most definitley more than two people making complains. The South Yaphank Civic Association has been activley involved in this issue for several years. Numerous members of the civic call on a regular basis to make complains about the odor. An entire community within 1/2 mile has had their home assessment value lower by the Town due to the nusiance of LI compost. If your picture is of LIC then the piles are in violation of the 20 feet allowed by the town.

  2. I find it interesting, that your solution, is for the town to purchase, the residents homes. We also thought this was a good solution, many years ago, when we offered to sell our homes to the Long Island Compost. Why don’t you ask the owner, why he refused. There are DEC rules, and this company has violated them, for 11 years, enough is enough. We have no quality of life living here, we have major health issues. Go to youtube.com and search dusty11980 maybe you will saee what were living with

  3. As more knowledge has become available regarding the negative health effects of chemicals, radiation, heavy metals,… actions have been taken to reduce exposure to these noxious problems, which once where considered safe and even beneficial. Compost is no different. If negative health effects are present, ie. dusts causing silicosis, molds… it is unconscionable to ignore the problem, and place the blame on the victims.
    If Great Gardens can control these emission problems, it should stay, if not, it must go. Ferro Wire and many others benefited Long Island, but their hazardous waste problems put them out of business. Same for nuclear power; significant benefit, but the cost can be devastating.
    Any business can have these problems emerge, and some are forced to take a long term perspective; pay the cost of compliance or close. It would be unfortunate if they closed, but keeping them open means ignoring the human factor, being willing to put a price on lives and balancing that against profits.

  4. The 10,000 people represented by the Brookhaven Community Coalition are so proud of the environmental benefits and the profits generated by the 66-acre Long Island Compost that we would like to share it with other Long Islanders. We’ve studied the maps of Long Island carefully and found the best place to benefit the most people so they can share the enjoyment of knowing that they are do-gooders with an everyday breath of fresh composting fragrance. You’ll be glad to know that we’ve determined that Glen Cove is the ideal location for this type of activity.

    You’ll also be glad to know that the compost is radioactive. You seem to have overlooked this delightful detail in your research for your article. Having kept our secret about the nirvana of having 30,000 tons of radioactive compost stockpiled nearby from of the likes of Pravda, Das Reich and the Long Island Press, we can no longer in good conscience be selfish and not share our enviable quality of life with others. The people of Glen Cove will so happy when they hear that LI Compost will be coming to town that they will probably elect Jad Morey as mayor. Congratulations!

  5. Mr.Morey as I read your piece about LIC and the DEC, fracking and sewage treatment plants was not what I expected to read about but I do agree that both of these issues are important and have the potential to become environmental diasters but you totally lost me when it came to the Long Island Compost issue in Yaphank. unfortunately your comments were for the most part untrue and some were even just plain ridiculous and I do not feel spreading disinformation is responsible journalism when very real environmental problems and the potential for health risks to area residents are at stake.hundreds of residents in a number of communities are being affected by odor and dust, some miles away,and most of which live in homes that were built long before LIC opened in Yaphank.A number of residents that live near the facility had to stop using their wells because high concentrations of toxic metals starting showing up in their water along with alpha and beta radiation.Further testing by the county dept of health and the DEC have confirmed that higher than acceptable levels of toxic metals along with detectable levels of alpha and beta radiation have been found in the ground water bordering the LIC facility.Composting facilities have also been found to emit VOCs and had you done just a little research you would have found that compost facilities with negative pressure biofiltered enclosures is becoming the requirement all across the country and has been in Europe for years,there is even one in Delaware County NY.You have criticized the DEC about this issue but the way I see it they are doing their job and doing it correctly.They found a problem, they did extensive testing which is still ongoing and they made a decision based on the facts,that is exactly the way it should be done.You mention that you are dissapointed with Citizens Campaign for the Environment for taking up this issue but just like hydrofracking the current method of open air composting may be a threat to the air we breath and our aquifer so a change in the way it is done might be justified and since the threat may be substantial it seems that this is exactly the kind of issue they would be involved in so I applaud them for spending time and resources to protect Long Island. no one wants to see LIC go out of business but they also have to be a good neighbor and they have to operate in a responsible manner.Instead of fighting this they should be working with the DEC,CCE,and the local community groups to be an asset to the environment, and the community, this would show that they are a progressive company that cares about their customers and that would be good for business.

  6. Why would you assume that everyone that is being affectd by the landfill and great gardens moved here knowing there was a landfill and a huge compost facility here.The hamlet of Brookhaven and Yaphank are unique in that generations choose to stay here and contribute to there communities.We where here long before either. Your article states that great gardens only effects two people,now thats ignorance.Sir you stated you have a dim view of poloticians,from where we are you make them look good.

  7. Mr. Van Lith and Mr. Losee I applaud your comments. Very factual, something Mr. Jed Morey seems to ignore in his writing.

    Mr. Morey, it is ridiculous to think that only two Yaphank residents were affected by LIC. Wake up sir, there are dozens of residents located around the LIC and hundreds more in the immediate area that have been exposed to dust, toxins and ROTTEN odors for 11 years. Yes Mr. Morey, 11 years they have been in violation of there agreement. Why would you think it odd for the DEC to take action?? The DEC has given LIC 11 years to clean up it’s act. For 11 years residents haven’t been able to go outside, enjoy there backyard, garden, play with their children, pets, or even enjoy a nice breeze in there home.

    I don’t think you get it, and I think moving LIC to Glen Clove is a splendid idea…maybe you are the cracked egg for the sake of the omelet.

    Do your research next time. I find it hard to believe you weren’t aware of the heavy metal and radiation contamination from LIC directly affecting residents, but somehow that was left out of your science fiction article. You clearly have an agenda sir it’s obvious.

    Many of the Yaphank residents have lived here for generations. The Town of Brookhaven was irresponsible for allowing LIC to operate in a residential area and should be held accountable. LIC has broken there agreement for 11 years!!! Enough is enough.

    Seriously, do some research before you write your next article.

  8. It is apparent that Mr. Morey came to conclusions based on information that was grossly distorted and highly inaccurate. The fact is that Long Island Compost has come under fire in recent months in response to complaints made by the surrounding communities banning together and demanding the same quality of life that many Long Islanders take for granted. There are serious health and environmental concerns which have been created by Long Island Compost and they need to be adressed. I applaud the Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE)along with the Brookhaven Community Coalition (BCC) for their continued efforts to resolve these issues.

  9. Mr. Morey, I was here long before the landfill and Great Gardens, so that argument is mute. I am another person affected by the stench and the serious health concerns,as are my daughter’s family who live on the same road. so where you got the information that only 2 houses are affected I cannot imagine. There are many of us who open our doors or ride on our roads and are hit but an odor that often burns our throats and noses. We will be more than happy to have both nuisances move to your neighborhood and have your neighbors compared to “broken eggs”.

  10. Heavy metal toxins and radioactivity are not from compost. If that were the case, Iran would be composting instead of trying to purchase nuclear materials from Russia. I’m not making light of that point, either. Traces of radioactivity is beyond troubling. It’s terrifying. But since composting operations and landfills take in material from all over the place, it’s not beyond reason that there is an issue somewhere.
    My point here is that we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. The vast majority of the complaints on record have come from the two homes in the shadow of Great Gardens. That’s why I say that this is a result of irresponsible zoning and therefore the responsibility of the Town of Brookhaven. They cannot stand by and let residents, business and the DEC fight it out. CCE has every right to get involved in assisting the process but not by picking sides and throwing grenades. Composting is an essential part of a proactively beneficial environment on the Island. It helps the farmers reduce the need for artificial pesticides and other harmful applications, reduces the tonage in the waste stream and saves money.
    If the majority of the complaints were coming from the two neighbors then town should do everything in its power to alleviate the situation. And it IS within their power to do so. As far as the other complaints from the neighboring association, I’m happy to listen to the grievances as every Long Islander deserves the right to breathe clean air and drink clean water. Please don’t mistake my acerbic tone for one of disrespect. But understand that composting on a large scale is exactly the type of process we need to embrace in order to preserve the integrity of our Island for future generations.

  11. Mr. Morey,
    Your depiction of composting as a necessary practice is accurate and it’s true that composting – when done correctly – is indeed a good thing. The problem here in Yaphank is that Long Island Compost (LIC) is far from operating correctly and its history shows that it has little desire to do so at all.

    Your defense of this facility and its owner, Charles Vigliotti seems more that of a proselyte zealot than simply the defense of an industry. For example, in your glowing writeup of him for your 2011 “Power List”, you gush that “Vigliotti has Gordon Gekko good looks and a DeNiro-like swagger” and describe him as a man who “wields his influence quietly and carefully, and when he speaks, people listen“ all of which seems more like devoted fealty than simple congratulation.

    But that aside, I find it odd that you would defend something that was not even established here under its true identity (as a composting facility) but was rather billed as some unassuming landscape nursery called “Great gardens”. In fact, the signage on Horseblock road read only “Great Gardens” for nearly two years before the company’s real name – “Long Island Compost” appeared at the entrance. I also find it odd that Vigliotti, who bills his business as “the greenest business on Long Island” would disguise his that business in such a way as to keep the public from knowing what it really is. It is just such furtive and surreptitious concealment along with laundry list of mismanagement and malpractice that got him kicked out of Moriches and what now has people here up in arms.

    Mr. Morey, when you ran for mayor of Glen Cove, you spoke at a city council meeting about a proposed mega-project (Avalon Bay) and you stated that “the general impression people have is that the project is overwhelming.” You then went on to admonish the council to: “be careful before you do it. Let the people have the opportunity to respond to this project” and you then asked: “Is the city doing this strictly for financial reasons or are they worrying about the quality of life?”
    I find this particularly ironic because we asked the very same questions and were completely shut out from any community input and our concerns about our quality of life fell on deaf ears. Even when we could point directly at obvious violations such as Vigliotti’s clear-cutting of a supposedly mandatory 100-foot-wide buffer, we were not only ignored but were treated to diatribes from LIC’s lawyers carping about their client’s various “rights”.

    Odder still is that you also seem to want to somehow tar the Lesko administration for not doing its job when it was the Grucci administration (the ones who introduced “Crookhaven” into the local lexicon) that first brought this malodorous trash heap to our backyard which was then further enabled and abetted by John LaValle and later by Brian Foley long before Mark Lesko inherited the mess that was created by them.
    Oh and one last thing Mr. Morey, just how arrogant and callous must you be to suggest that people who have lived here for many decades and generations have their homes and memories bought up and condemned as if they were little more than cast-offs from a yard-sale just so that your hero “Gordon Gekko” can be unburdened of people with legitimate complaints but whom he and you obviously regard as little more than one might regard a fly in their kitchen?

    How do you go from running for mayor with a narrative of being a champion of a community’s right to a good quality of life to defending an operation that has racked up years’ worth of violations and fines and which has attempted to thwart any and all efforts by governing bodies to simply follow the regulations that were spelled out to them before they set up shop here in Yaphank?

    Are you so enamored of rubbing elbows with the “players” that you’ve forgotten what you once seemed to stand for?

    Or do you even care anymore?

  12. John, I care very much. Moreover, I’m not blaming Lesko; nor am I advocating for the reckless use of eminent domain. I’m making the point that the vast majority of the complaints have come from the two properties adjacent to the facility and that their conditions are unlivable. Above, Ms. Barone even said that they are willing to accept payment to leave. This is where I think Lesko can prove the hero and purchase these properties while GG continues to further remediate and purposefully improve its facility. I have no problem with GG being hammered by DEC regulations to install fences and irrigation and reduce the size of piles or to even eliminate certain items they currently accept. My issue here is that this process – done correctly as you point out – is necessary and good for the greater health of our environment. In their report, however, the DEC doesn’t cite exactly what they’re doing wrong procedurally. We need to work toward a better solution, take care of the families most at risk adjacent to the property, and remember that this is a state-mandated function for environmental purposes. I think we can both get it right and protect the health of the neighbors.

  13. Mr. Moley Why must innocent people whos lives have been turned upside down and negatively impacted by the Long Island Compost Facility be made to look like the bad guys. Whether two or two hundred people have complained its because there is a problem. A major problem in which they must live with.
    I always thought that a publisher/writer collected all the facts from all concerned before writing an article. I find it ironic how people who do not know the facts have the nerve to point a finger at anyone.
    I noticed how you neglected to write about all the voilations and court cases that the facility has had year after year. And lets not forget the massive fire.
    Yaphank residents embrace the Citizans Campaign for the enviroment,and any other group,person, organization, etc.
    who is willing to help keep yaphank residents free from herendous health conditions due to this site.
    As for you Mr. Mosley it is completely ovious that your article was written to defend your pals of the LIC.
    Oh and lets not forget the fire. how not only the residents were at risk but the brave fireman who risked their lives going into a raging fire.

  14. I am deeply appalled and offended by the many inaccuracies and omissions in your article and in your several replies to concerned citizens who took the time to formulate well-thought out responses to your diatribe. Most of the points I feel moved to make have already been eloquently made by those who wrote before me. But there are a couple of points on which I just can not be silent:

    Yes, it is true that those living closest to the LIC facility have the worst of it. And it may be true that they reported very legitimate complaints more often than others. But please, let us not pretend that those two homes were the only ones affected, and continue to be affected, by the extremely deleterious effects of that poisonous site. The truth is that Great Gardens has not been a good neighbor. They have operated in a greedy and selfish manner while violating numerous codes and laws. I would think it appropriate if you were to write an article about how and why Mr. Vigliotta was allowed to get away with it for so long, despite numerous reports of the violations and visits by those charged with enforcing those codes.

    This is not a matter of being disturbed by a little bit of dust, or an occasional foul odor. The facility has day after day, week after week, year after year, thumbed their nose at the citizens who were forced to hold theirs while anywhere near the facility. The dust is known to contain toxic and harmful substances that are bad enough when dry and blown by the wind. But when they are wetted down by the rain that is allowed to get to the piles due to the fact that they were not forced to cover those piles as the law requires, a chemical reaction takes place. Heavy metals and alpha and beta radiation are leached down through the ground where they form a plume, that even as I write is creeping and seeping toward people’s homes and wells, the Carman’s river, and Beaver Dam creek.

    First the landfill, and now this. Have not these communities had more than their fair share of being dumped on? Who knows what the firemen who fought that huge fire were exposed to? Likely something that you’d rather not be exposed to yourself. So how can you defend it, I ask you?

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