Two acres in Riverside being cleared to prevent illegal activity

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor stands amongst piles of construction debris illegally dumped on town land in Riverside.

The Southampton Town Highway Department plans to clean up about two acres of heavily-vegetated town-owned land in Riverside and then clear the property next week to prevent it from being used by drug dealers, prostitutes and illegal dumpers.

“We want to make it so they don’t have anywhere to hide,” Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor said on Wednesday, when the site was being cleared with the help of inmates from the Suffolk County Correctional Facilty’s Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program (SLAP), which uses inmates who are incarcerated on non-violent crimes to assist in cleanup projects throughout the county.

The approximately two acres of town-owned land is located behind Marta’s Deli on Riverleigh Avenue and runs to Pine Street, which is the road that connects Riverleigh Avenue to Vail Avenue. It’s been cleaned up in the past, but the dumping returns soon afterward.

“We’re always seeing people back here,” said Southampton Town Police Officer Steve Frankenbach, who’s been patrolling Riverside for 13 years. He said virtually anytime an officer goes in the heavily wooded area, they end up making an arrest, as it is frequently used by drug dealers and prostitutes.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor said these televisions that were dumped in the woods on town-owned land in Riverside came from a television repair shop that went out of business.

There are a number of paths through the site and it’s overgrown with Japanese Knotweed and other vegetation that make it easy for people to hide, officials say.

On Wednesday, the land was littered with a pile of discarded televisions from an out-of-business television repair shop, a motor boat, piles of yard waste and stumps, construction debris, gas cans, bricks, household cleaning products, tires, underwear, clothing and other garbage and paint thinners that Mr. Gregor said are considered household hazardous wastes.

“If you get a fire in here, it will go like wildfire and it will impact private homes,” Mr. Gregor said.

The glass from the televisions also could start a fire, he said.

The site is actually made up of several town-owned lands that Mr. Gregor believes the town acquired through tax defaults over the years.

The inmates from the Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program were scheduled to be working on the site Wednesday and Thursday. The program uses criminals who have sentences that are less than a year.

The penalty for escape is seven years, so inmates have a disincentive to attempt doing so, officials says.

“This is pretty cool, it gets us out of jail,” said Andrew Mandary of Centereach, who is in jail for third-degree insurance fraud and is scheduled to be released Friday.

He was on hand for the cleanup Wednesday, where he agreed to be interviewed. He said he has participated in the program before.

“Last year, we worked on the Flight 800 Memorial at Smith Point Beach in Shirley,” he said. “We did a lot of mulch work there.”

Of the Riverside spot, he said, “It looks like a dump site.”

“Once we clean up the garbage and we knock down the vegetation, we have a bulldozer here and we’re going to clear the property,” Mr. Gregor said.

Any trees that are smaller than six inches in diameter will be removed, he said. He hopes to begin work on clearing the site Tuesday.

“We’re actually going to cultivate the entire property and make it harder for the invasive plants to grow back that can turn into cover for criminals,” he said.

Some volunteers from the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association also were on hand to help with the cleanup, including vice president Steven Schreiber and treasurer Brad Bender.

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