Six days after Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci returned home from military deployment, he apologized for the toxic dumping scandal that erupted in his absence and blasted subordinates for letting it happen.
Croci, who said he visited Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood—where carcinogen-tainted soil was first found in March—after his return from serving overseas on Wednesday, also rattled off a list of directives in his plan to mitigate the growing crisis and regain public trust.
“I apologize on behalf of the Town of Islip for what has transpired in Roberto Clemente Park and in town hall during my deployment,” Croci told reporters Tuesday during a news conference. “The situation is abhorrent. And I share the anger, the embarrassment and the frustration…at the failure of leadership and oversight by some in our town while I was overseas.”
Croci, a U.S. Navy reservist who was serving as a commander in Afghanistan for the past year, said he had learned of the criminal investigation into illegal dumping in the town from news reports while he was deployed. The Republican had left a non-voting appointee and the GOP-majority town board in charge while he was away.
Before the supervisor returned, the town council had fired the parks commissioner, hired a private environmental consulting firm to test the park, bonded $6 million to pay for the clean up and scrambled to find alternate locations for summer recreation programs.
Among his first moves upon returning, Croci ended the informal practice of having individual town board members serve as liaisons to specific departments. All board members will be responsible for all departments, he said. Councilman Anthony Senft, a Conservative who is running for state Senate, had been the parks liaison.
Croci also ordered the town parks and planning departments to devise a plan to clean up the park. He additionally directed his staff to coordinate with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on their response, requested a review of the town ethics policy and signed an order that extends the emergency declaration allowing him to expedite remediation.
The ethics policy review, Croci said, will “include enhancing financial disclosure filings and increased penalties for any employees engaging in political activities on town time or town property.” In addition, he said sales of properties by the town will be conducted by a joint team consisting of town attorney’s office, planning department and comptroller’s office with oversight by town supervisor’s staff.
“No elected official shall have any day-to-day involvement in the negotiations for the sale of town property,” he said.
He also told reporters that while he was away, his campaign manager donated to charity funds given to the supervisor’s re-election campaign by the owners of a company reportedly linked to the dumping.
Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota has said that his office expects the number of dump sites to grow as the probe continues and that he believes the environmental crimes were committed by the same culprit—but he has yet to name a suspect. Charges have yet to be filed.
Prosecutors and the DEC have been jointly investigating the illegal dumping of soil containing asbestos, banned pesticides such as DDT and other toxins in the Brentwood Park, two sites in Central Islip—including a veteran’s housing complex—and wetlands in Deer Park.
County officials have also declared a state of emergency for the park and have been offering alternate recreation program locations. The state attorney general’s office has additionally been monitoring the situation while others call for federal investigators to get involved.
“What I need to do right now is make sure that the government is stabilized and in a position to very swiftly deal with this recovery effort,” Croci said. “The Town of Islip is committed to fixing this.”