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Original Issue

From a dump of sorts to a spot for sports

In terms of trees, suburban sprawl and scenery, there is not much to distinguish New York's Long Island from any other specific place in the country. It suffers all the usual national problems, including junk—which is piling up something awful. But now, slowly, something is happening to that junk. Long Island is affecting a marriage between, of all things, garbage and sport.

Well, why not? Most communities have too much of one and probably could use more of the other. Ecologically, the move is overdue. And Long Island's sporting dump is not entirely original—a lot of cities are on to the idea now. Here is what some of them have already done:

West Berliners built Mount Junk, an artificial hill made out of wartime bombing rubble, and it now has everything from a ski jump to a vineyard.

A huge mound of garbage sits outside Norfolk, Va. called, with a certain touch of folksy genius, Mount Trash-more. It is 60 feet high and is being converted into a recreation park.

Pittsburgh trucks its 900 to 1,000 tons of daily refuse 20 miles out of town, dumps it into old strip-mines, plants the settled debris with shrubbery, stocks the areas with game and opens them to public hunting.

In Los Angeles, refuse has been a part of recreational planning for half a century; some landfill projects in the area actually tailor the stuff to fit the desired contour of the land.

Now that Long Island has discovered sporting garbage—discovered that it is far easier to love debris than leave it—the area promises to produce the big daddy dump of all. Sanitary landfill—remember that term—is the secret. Sanitary landfill uses "solid waste," which takes in a whole world of rubbish, garbage and trash, then compacts it and buries it out of sight under topsoil. But if that sounds too easy, the system is reaching artistic heights at the township of Brookhaven. Using solid wastes, workers are converting the existing landfill site at Brookhaven's Holtsville village into a Sports City.

Through the use of "berms," or earth walls made of refuse, what now resembles a typical East Coast dump—complete with a million sea gulls—will become a 74-acre complex containing 16 tennis courts, 15 handball courts, four basketball courts, two football fields, six baseball fields, a 7,000-seat stadium and several swimming and wading pools. The complex also will feature 700 new trees and open space for picnics, games, walks and people who just want to dig the whole concept—as long as they don't dig too deep.

"This is one of the first designed and planned landfill projects that produces a recreational and park program for a whole community, instead of a one-shot project," says George A. Dudley, who oversees the venture as president of the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation. "In the past, the concept of solid-waste landfill was just that," says Architect Norval C. White, the project planner. "You filled up an empty space until it was level with the space adjacent. After it was full and flat, you drew lines and said, 'This is a football field or this is a baseball field.' The difference here is that we're now using the material to create topography. Solid waste becomes a three-dimensional part of the facility."

It also becomes a tremendous cost saver. Surrounding communities will be paying more than $11 a ton for waste disposal when pollution-control devices are added to existing incineration facilities, according to Brookhaven Supervisor Charles W. Barraud. The Holtsville project will cost a mere $3.05 per ton. Brook-haven's 243,000 residents—generating one ton of garbage each—will produce a quarter of a million tons annually at the cost of $750,000. The town will pay the bills, but the nonprofit EFC will deed the land to Brookhaven and extend the payment period over more than 20 years. The landfill should be completed by the end of 1972 and the entire project in operation before 1976, in time to meet the 200th anniversary of a nation that suddenly has grown garbage conscious.

Landfill was not the only option open to Brookhaven when the town leaders set out in search of a long-range garbage-disposal solution, but other available means, such as composting, long-distance hauling and pyrolysis (heat distillation), proved as expensive or inconvenient as such tried-and-failed means as dumping and burning.

Now that the project is, so to speak, growing, all is strictly business at Holtsville. Bulldozers are compacting garbage into five-foot sections and covering each with six inches of soil. Each berm, when finished, will be covered by another three feet of topsoil which will, in turn, be landscaped. Dominated by graceful shapes, rather than harsh, jutting angles, the complex will simulate ancient Mayan ruins, or so says Architect White.

In fact, the pleasing appearance promised for the place is probably its biggest selling point. For all the talk of progress and environment, there are still a few folks in the community whose esthetic sensibilities won't let them forget that beneath that sports center, under the playgrounds and swimming pools, is a lot of, well, icky garbage. But continued reassurances are winning them all over: "The garbage dumping will be discontinued a long time before the project is fully useful," says Assistant Director Ernest Warnke. "Anyone who enjoyed New York's 1964-65 World's Fair will recall that the Flushing Meadow area was built atop landfill."

After all, a lot of good old clean dirt and sand will go on top of the garbage when the dumping stops. Swimming pools will be lined like swimming pools everywhere; tennis courts and other playing fields will not be installed until the garbage settles, and then blacktop, grass or clay will be applied.

Thus assured, even the most skeptical residents of Brookhaven have now gone for the idea. No one wanted to live near a garbage dump, but the picture of a sports complex reversed the priorities. The idea even made garbage—a messy political problem—something of a delightful concept. Hassles that had compounded the problem disappeared when Brookhaven went to EFC, which was created by Governor Rockefeller and the New York state legislature to assist towns, villages and counties in meeting their sewage and solid-waste disposal problems. EFC did such an effective selling job that local opposition, for once, did not materialize. The landfill operation got under way Jan. 1.

At first glance Brookhaven would appear to have about as much of a garbage problem as outer space. Starting some 60 miles east of Manhattan and extending another 20 miles eastward, bridging Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, Brookhaven, all 387 square miles of it, is the largest legally defined town in New York State. It was officially incorporated by Royal Charter in 1686 and has largely preserved its rural character. In spite of an upper-middle-class development in Stony Brook, there are dirt roads throughout the township and rural resort areas in its eastern regions. Of the seven villages, the largest, Patchogue, has only 11,478 residents. It is hardly a Manhattan suburb. Even Brookhaven's western regions are a 1½-hour express ride from Penn Station on the Long Island Railroad. Most of its working residents are employed by local industries—the airports, Long Island Light, a telephone company branch and the famous Brookhaven National Laboratory. Because of transportation problems and the scarcity of water for industrial use, heavy industry has not invaded the area. There is little air pollution, thanks to a southwest wind off the Atlantic, and 130 miles of shore frontage enhance the rural mystique.

The attitudes are not urban, either. Republicans outnumber Democrats by almost two to one, but the leaders of both major parties have agreed to forbid their candidates to accept endorsements from minor parties, so great have Conservative Party successes been of late. It is quiet, reserved country, and mention of the word garbage usually conjures up visions of Greenwich Village.

But as Supervisor Barraud, the highest-ranking local elective official in Brookhaven, is quick to affirm, urban problems are just over the horizon. And some have arrived—like garbage.

Even the most enthusiastic promoters of sporting garbage concede that landfill is only an interim solution. "It depends on site availability," says environmentalist Dudley, "and the supply of land, like water and air, is finite." New York City's landfills, for instance, will be full in a couple of years—and when your fill is full you are in trouble. Even Tucson, in the middle of the desert, will be out of dumpland in 30 years.

Experts say that the only sound cure for the refuse problem is an efficient and cost-saving means of recycling, just as surely, in the words of Calvin Coolidge, as work is the ultimate cure for unemployment. Meanwhile, if you have to have a dump, says Brookhaven, why not play on it?