A lawsuit between Staten Island residents and the city of New York over the long delayed cleanup of an abandoned toxic waste dump was settled this week.
Some 30 years after the landfill was shut down over an illegal dumping scandal—and two years after a group of residents sued New York City for failing to clean it up—the city signed a court settlement with residents agreeing to a 2013 deadline for cleanup.
The city began cleaning up the site earlier this year. But this week’s settlement ensures that the project will be completed by a court-ordered deadline. Once the cleanup phase of the project is complete, the city intends to turn the former toxic wasteland into a community park.
Brookfield was one of five city landfills involved in a 1982 federal investigation into illegal dumping. Ultimately, the investigation sent a city Department of Sanitation official and a hauling operator to prison. Between 1974 and 1980, tens of thousands of gallons of toxic industrial waste were dumped at Brookfield. The Staten Island site is the last of the five landfills to be cleaned up.
Geri Kelsch, president of the Northern Great Kills Civic Association, grew up just blocks away from the landfill, and remembers asking her mother why that huge piece of land—the landfill spans 272 acres—was fenced off, overgrown, and surrounded by caution signs. In 2003, she bought a house near the site and decided she didn't want her children growing up asking the same questions. So she became active with the civic association, which brought a lawsuit against the city for the clean-up delays in October of 2008.
“We’ve waited years for this day,” Kelsch said. “And when the cleanup is finished and the park is built, we will have the perfect spot for our victory celebration!”
Just two months after the public interest law firm Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of Kelsch's group, the state agreed to set $100 million aside for cleanup. In June 2009, the city agreed to budget the remaining $141 million needed.
“Those convicted of dumping this toxic waste have long ago served their time,” said Earthjustice attorney Megan Klein. “But only now that residents have a legally binding promise from the city that their community will be cleaned up can we say that justice has been served.”
Also active on the decades-long struggle to clean up the site is John Felicetti, the head of the Brookfield Citizen's Advisory Committee. Felicetti has lived near the site since 1978, and led the charge for years, organizing letter-writing campaigns and calling councilmen about the need for the cleanup. “The Brookfield Citizens Advisory Committee as well as the Northern Great Kills Civic Association is proud of the role they have played ensuring that this day could be possible,” Felicetti said. “We hope it won’t be long before the Brookfield neighborhood is known for its beautiful park-like setting and not the history that has overshadowed it for decades.”
Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 235
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.