Are Recycling Facilities Impacting Yaphank Groundwater?

Environmental Law


Facilities recycling nonhazardous wastes, such as tunnel rock, trees, leaves, mulch and gravel are coming under fire from local Long Island residents and municipalities. The operations of two recycling sites near the Yaphank Historical District have led to nuisance complaints from local residents as a result of traffic, fumes, and smell. Additionally, the presence of these operations illustrates a conflict between state and local government.

Under 6 NYCRR Part 361-1, Recyclables Handling and Recovery Facilities (“RHRFs”) can operate as long as they work within the state environmental standards. Long Island currently has 133 such facilities recycling yard waste and clean demolition debris without much government oversight. These facilities only need to be registered. They do not have to be permitted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYSDEC”). The NYSDEC is considering giving registration applications for recycling facilities more scrutiny to ensure safe operation.

Tension exists between New York State and the local municipality because the state government grants approvals for these facilities without any concern for the local municipal zoning ordinances. The local zoning codes are outside the jurisdiction of the state agencies and have resulted in these facilities being approved to operate in residential districts. While the NYSDEC has no intention of closing these facilities as they provide necessary recycling of nonhazardous wastes and do not pose a threat to human health or the environment, this may change as unusually high radioactivity levels in groundwater have been discovered near a Yaphank compost facility.

Groundwater contaminated with radioactive materials is a threat to human health and the environment. If soil or groundwater is found to contain radioactive materials, the site will have to be remediated so that no person receives a radiation dose greater than 4 millirems per year from drinking the groundwater. The New York State drinking water standards are consistent with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s federal drinking water standards. The New York State Department of Health maximum contaminant levels (“MCL”) for radioactive materials in community water systems can be found at 16 NYCCR Part 5, Subpart 5-1, Table 7.

A plume discovered in 2009 near a compost transfer station may be a source of high radioactivity levels in the Yaphank groundwater. The contaminated plume has impacted one private well, with radioactivity levels exceeding the state drinking water standards. Although it is unlikely the plume or radioactivity levels in the groundwater came from the composting of leaves and yard waste, DEC now acknowledges that the State must consider new techniques for managing compost facilities that best protect groundwater.

For more information on groundwater contamination and remediation, please contact Miriam Villani or Jason Kaplan.

Posted by Miriam Villani

Green Buildings Are Only As Good As Its Management

Environmental Law


Sustainability is a buzz word being thrown around recently to signify a project is “green” or “environmentally friendly.” But sustainability goes beyond simply placing solar panels on a rooftop or building with recycled materials or installing a more efficient HVAC system. Currently “sustainability” is being used as a marketing term, but it really needs to be embraced as a true concept in order for there to be real success. In reality, success isn’t gauged by how many tons of CO2 emissions are reduced. It’s quantified by the economics. The biggest motivators for sustainable building practices are improving the rent roll and reducing operating expenses which in turn increase the property value. Economics is the ultimate driver of sustainability. And as we have begun to see, with the help of New York City code amendments, sustainability in building development has become economically viable.

In order for property owners to see return on the investment of sustainable practices, they must vertically engage their agents and employees who are active with the building, from property manager to leasing agent to tenant. Recently I attended a seminar on sustainability in New York City building development, where major landlords, like Vornado, spoke on the principals of operating a sustainable commercial/residential building. The core take away was that a green building is only as efficient and productive as those who manage and operate the building. It is only step one to build or renovate a building using “green” techniques, but in educating tenants and building managers in the proper way of using the building to its greatest potential is the key. A commercial property built in ways to increase energy efficiency, but run inefficiently, does no good.

The concepts of green buildings and sustainability are moving much more into the mainstream; Banks are now requesting LEED, Energy Star, and energy efficiency documents during refinancing. And New York City is amending its local laws in order to promote sustainable practices. This past March, New York City passed amendments to the building code that exempted large solar thermal and photovoltaic equipment from height and story restrictions in the building code (Local Law 20 of 2011). In addition, amendments to Local Law 21 require roofs when altered or replaced shall be colored white or have solar reflectance minimums in accordance with the code.

Sustainability will become much more pervasive in this industry as developers, property managers, landlords and tenants realize the multiple layers of benefits to these practices. Saving the environment, reducing air pollution, increasing energy efficiency, marketing strategy are all important and admirable objects, but fundamentally sustainable building practices will succeed because they decrease operating costs and increase the rent roll.

For more information on green buildings, sustainable development and commercial/residential real estate issues, please contact Miriam Villani or Jason Kaplan.

Posted by Miriam Villani