Hiking at dump put on hold

If you’ve been looking forward to taking a hike or bike ride through the now-capped Riverhead Town landfill, you’re going to have to wait. The reason? The place looks like, well, a dump, according to the town supervisor.

“It’s an absolute mess at this point because the grass hasn’t been cut, we don’t have a sign up and there’s nobody to monitor it,” said Supervisor Sean Walter, who says the town should wait until next year before opening recreation trails at the landfill.

On the other hand, Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy, a longtime advocate of turning the closed landfill into a park, thinks the site is fine as is.

“It’s over two miles up on top of the hill and it was always the intention to have it opened up for walkers and bicycles,” Mr. Dunleavy said.

Mr. Walter said he’s also concerned that people will ride all-terrain vehicles illegally on the property and damage the new landfill cap, for which the town paid more than $8 million.

“I don’t know who’s going to monitor people’s activity in there,” the supervisor said. “I’m little hesitant to let people in there without some supervision.”

As for its condition, Mr. Dunleavy said the town is only required by the state to cut the grass twice a year, not to keep the site manicured. “It’s wildflowers,” he said. “That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

As of now, there’s nothing blocking the path of bicycles or hikers, he said.

“It doesn’t look like a garbage dump,” town engineer Ken Testa said. “It looks like a big grass hill.”

“It’s an uphill walk,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “So it’s good exercise for the people of the Town of Riverhead.”

Mr. Walter said the town will open the site up to the public next year, after workers cut the grass.

Converting the property from a town dump has been a long process — and an expensive one for taxpayers.

The town bonded $10 million to cap the landfill in 2008 after receiving a bid of $7.4 million from Terry Contracting for the work. That bond amount intentionally included surplus funds, because officials felt there was a good chance they would discover something they didn’t anticipate. And they did.

The final cost will be about $8.4 million, Mr. Testa said.

An additional $73,909 was needed to cover the cost of recycling tires found on the site, creating a landscaped berm between the landfill property and the condominiums to the west and adding another cap drain, because the reclaimed sand used in the capping didn’t drain as well as expected, Mr. Testa said.

The town originally planned to reclaim the entire landfill, instead of capping it, and began that project in 2002, but abandoned it in 2007 when it was discovered that the job was way over budget. That project, which the state Department of Environmental Conservation approved, was one of the first of its kind in the state and called for excavating sand at the landfill and removing buried garbage and recyclables.

The town had spent about $42 million on the reclamation by the time it abandoned the job, so the total between both the reclamation and the capping came to about $50 million, officials said.

Former Supervisor Phil Cardinale last year estimated that the town lost about $15 million by starting the reclamation project, instead of capping the landfill from the start, since some of the fill had spilled onto a neighboring property and needed to be reclaimed anyway.

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