By Andrew Wroblewski
Day campers of Sweet Hills Riding Center at West Hills County Park were turned away early Friday morning as an illegal dumping investigation closed roughly 15 acres of the 855-acre park, Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone said.
While much of the county-owned park has not been affected by the apparent illegal dumping and remains open, investigators determined last month that “suspicious, processed construction material” were dumped near the riding center, which houses around 100 horses and has been operated by a licensee since 1982.
While it’s unclear how the materials got to the parkland, Bellone said during a press conference Friday that “there are indications that ground was being laid and prepared for much larger, more significant dumping of material.” That includes unauthorized tree clearing, he said.
The area is being treated as “an active crime scene,” Bellone said, and “we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who are responsible for any acts that are damaging and destructive to our parks.”
In a statement emailed Monday, a spokesman for Sweet Hills Riding Center said the center was not involved in the apparent illegal dumping.
“Recently, some material was dumped near a trail area without our knowledge or consent,” stated Mark Smith, the spokesman. “The center is cooperating fully with Suffolk County Parks and all of the agencies that are investigating this incident.”
Smith added that the horses at the center are being relocated while tests are performed on the materials that investigators found on the parkland.
Bellone said Friday that there was no indication that the materials are dangerous to horses housed onsite, park patrons or nearby residents.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini added testing of the materials is being expedited. He also asked anyone with information on the incident to call 1-800-220-TIPS.
“A crime has occurred here and we’re going to thoroughly investigate it,” Sini said. “We will get to the bottom of this and we will hold those responsible accountable for these egregious actions.”
Suffolk Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante later said that police believe the dumping occurred over a “period of time.”
Detectives of Suffolk’s environmental crimes unit, which works with the district attorney’s office, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation are investigating the dumping.