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.
Brookfield is the last of those five landfills to be cleaned up. As the city took steps to end that sad chapter of its history today, numerous dignitaries were on hand to put the ceremonious shovel to the ground. But the moment truly belonged to a group of residents and officials from the Great Kills section of the island who fought to keep the issue front and center, year after year.
Residents like Geri Kelsch, the president of the Northern Great Kills Civic Association. Kelsch grew up some 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.
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.
"I'm excited that the cleanup is being done," Kelsch said. "I'm hopeful that it's done in a timely fashion, and I'm hopeful that it'll one day be a beautiful park and recreation area for the younger generation to use."
"Those convicted of dumping this toxic waste have long ago served their time," said Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell. "But now, finally, these residents can reclaim their community from contamination."
Also celebrating today's milestone was John Felicetti, the head of the Brookfield Citizen's Advisory Committee. Felicetti has lived near the site since 1978, and spent many a day organizing letter-writing campaigns and calling councilmen about the need for the clean-up. "The Brookfield Citizens Advisory Committee is proud of the role it has played insuring that this day could be possible," he said. "We hope that in years to come Brookfield will be known for its beautiful park-like setting and not the history that has overshadowed it for decades."
Nick Dmytryszyn, an environmental engineer with the borough president's office who has been working on the clean-up issue since the early 1990s, agreed. "A generation of people have grown up there seeing the site that way," he said. "We are finally breathing a sigh of relief that with the mayor's official turning over of the shovel, remediation is, in fact, beginning."