Middle Island Homeowners Say Operation Smells, Poses Fire Hazard

BROOKHAVEN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Some Long Island residents say they’ve been dealing with a rapidly expanding mountain of mulch behind their homes that is stinking up the neighborhood and creating a fire hazard.

As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, Middle Island residents are fed up with a 40-foot-high, acres-wide mountain of decomposing leaves and grass hovering over their backyards.

“I spent two days out here all summer,” said resident Ted Swedalla. “There were times when we couldn’t even come in the backyard.”

Fire officials say they’ve been called to the hamlet at least six times since the summer over concerns the pile could ignite. A home video shot Sunday by neighbors shows the combustible mulch smoldering.

“People’s lives are at risk at this very moment,” said Gail Lynch-Bailey, vice president of the Middle Island Civic Association. “A fire could erupt at any time.”

“They could have a fire at 2 a.m. in the morning, and by the time anybody knows about it, you’ve lost a couple of houses and maybe some lives,” added Tom Talbot, president of the civic association.

Town officials are concerned, too. They say the only water on the 11-acre property is a garden hose.

“If the whole pile went up, there would be absolutely no way to combat that fire no matter how many department they brought in,” said David Moran, the Town of Brookhaven’s deputy attorney.

The town has tried to shut the operation down, citing the property’s owner, Joseph Marcario, for lacking a permit for mulching in an area zoned for residential use.

But Marcario has fended off challenges, arguing that his family has been mulching for more than a century.

His attorney insists there is no fire hazard on the land and that the pile is monitored. CBS 2 asked to see the property close-up, but was turned away.

Marcario will have to answer to a judge next week when the town takes its case to court.

Residents say the operation morphed into a smelly, noisy fire hazard after superstorm Sandy.

“It takes God and Mother Nature millions of years to make a mountain,” Lynch-Bailey said. “This group has created a mountain in this backyard of these people. They have to put up with the terrible stench, noise pollution, air pollution.”

“It’s just inconceivable to me that this operation just continues unabated,” Talbot said.

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