MELVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Suffolk County is cracking down on illegal activity within its parks.
As CBS2’s Jessica Borg reported, county officials are hoping a new program will keep the parkland in the county safe and clean.
The 70,000 acres of parkland in Suffolk County are vital to the county and its residents.
“We love it and we go for walks just about every day at different parks,” said Joel Levine of Commack.
Now, a new program called Parks Watch has been set up, and county officials hope it will deter illegal activity in its nearly 50 parks.
Such illegal activity includes anything from vandalism to drug deals and illegal dumping of construction materials.
Officials want parkgoers to report tips to its RID hotline or email address. RID stands for “Report Illegal Dumping.”
“We’ve invested hundreds of millions of your taxpayer money into our parks,” said Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai). “We need you to be good stewards. We need your help.”
The new program is a response to two high-profile dumping scandals.
Last October, a part of West Hills County Park in Melville was found to be severely contaminated by toxic chemicals in construction debris that was illegally dumped there.
Officials are still investigating who was behind truckloads of pesticides, metals and asbestos that were dumped around the Sweet Hills Riding Center, which housed a summer day camp and horse stable.
The Riding Center is still locked up and shut down. Parents were warned their kids might have come in contact with the dangerous chemicals, from being surrounded with contaminated dust.
Suffolk Parks Commissioner Philip Berdolt believes companies are targeting county land out of greed.
“You get little pockets of this dumping going on just because it would seem like it was cheaper to people to use a remote site to dump their construction debris, than to actually pay a tipping fee in one of the landfills,” Berdolt said.
Tipping fees are what trucks are charged when they unload material.
“It also means that our drinking water can become contaminated, leaving even more people exposed to toxins,” said Adrienne Esposito of Citizens for the Environment.
The “Parks Watch” program will also include installing more hidden surveillance cameras.
For parkgoers, the plan isn’t yet a slam dunk — but it is a step in the right direction.
“Now, like, everybody can just come out and feel safe again,” a man said.
The hope is that culprits will be caught in the act and illegal activities will stop altogether.
This past May, Suffolk County increased its fine from $1,000 to $10,000 for any individual caught illegally dumping hazardous construction materials. It is now $15,000 for any corporation, and a possible one-year prison term if found guilty.