Featured Letter: Placing blame on the wrong person

Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio at Tuesday night's Town Board meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio at Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)

To the editor:

There’s more to add to Marge Acevedo’s excellent column last week that outlined the Republican’s total culpability in running up the tab at the landfill and leaving our town with a large budget deficit that can’t be closed without either a large tax hike or borrowing more money. 

When the state mandated that towns close their landfills, local governments had two choices: Reclaim their dumps, which is to say, haul the garbage away, or cap them. Riverhead’s Republican Town Board chose reclamation, even though every other East End town — all far wealthier than Riverhead — had already voted for the demonstrably less expensive and already tested capping option.

I remember well that when Riverhead’s Republicans indicated they were leaning toward reclamation, senior officials at the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation actually urged them to change their minds and to go with capping instead. The DEC’s reasoning was that capping had already met with success in other towns. Moreover, they argued, the total cost of hauling the garbage away could never be estimated with precision because it hadn’t been tried elsewhere.

Needless to say, the Republicans ignored the expert advice. They posited virtuously that reclamation was the more environmentally proper way to go and proceeded to approve a $40 million bond authorization. I remember one long-term Republican councilman telling me it was the proudest vote he had ever cast.

But after spending $40 million and discovering that less than half of the landfill had been reclaimed, boasting turned to silence.

It was a Democrat, then-newly elected Supervisor Phil Cardinale, who ultimately put a stop to the fiscal bleeding. He ordered a halt to reclamation and borrowed a relatively modest $8 million to cap the landfill and be done with it. Had he not halted reclamation, who knows how many more tax dollars would have been spent? Another $40 million? Or maybe $60 million? So the next time you hear Supervisor Sean Walter and his colleagues blaming Mr. Cardinale for the financial mess we’re in, cite the facts and tell them with certainty that it just ain’t so.

John Stefans, Northville

Mr. Stefans, a former editor of the Riverhead News-Review, is a resident of Northville and a member of the Riverhead Democratic Committee.