Sandy-damaged cars being hauled from EPCAL on state’s orders

11/28/2012 12:00 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A tow truck leaving EPCAL after removing cars from the grasslands at the end of the 10,000 foot-long runway Wednesday morning.

Tow trucks have begun removing storm-damaged cars stored on a privately-held section of the Enterprise Park at Calverton Wednesday morning after the New York State DEC sent a cease and desist letter to the property owner ordering removal of the cars.

The cars, which were deemed inoperable after superstorm Sandy, are stored in the thousands on a section of EPCAL owned by developer Jan Burman, town officials said.

Unlike a similar arrangement the town has with an auto auction company to store vehicles elsewhere at EPCAL, the cars, trucks and SUVs on Burman’s property are being kept on grass by a different auto auction company, which DEC officials objected to in their letter.

In the Nov. 26 letter to car auction group Copart — which is storing the cars on the Burman land — DEC Regional Supervisor Robert Marsh wrote that the storage of cars on grassland at EPCAL threatened the habitats and foraging grounds of threatened or endangered species.

Tiger salamanders on the site may be crushed by the heavy equipment used to store and move the vehicles around the site, Mr. Marsh said, and the cars are also “an adverse modification of foraging habitat for northern harriers” and the short-eared owl, an endangered species.

This would be a violation of New York code that prohibits activities that threaten endangered species, he wrote.

“You are hereby advised to cease your operation at the referenced location immediately,” Mr. Marsh said in the letter to Copart officials. “All vehicles should be removed from the identified sensitive habitat areas as soon as physically possible.”

A local environmental advocate had previously criticized plans to store cars on the EPCAL property, saying the vehicles posed an environmental safety hazard.

Town officials initially issued a stop-work order on the Burman property’s car storing operation, but later rescinded the order because they the state Department of Environmental Conservation was the correct agency to look into the issue rather than the town, Supervisor Sean Walter said in a previous interview.

Mr. Walter was unable to be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the DEC, said the town alerted the state to the potential violation at EPCAL

“[The] DEC will always assist property owners to follow best management practices to protect the environment,” Mr. Fonda said in an email. “In this case, the Town of Riverhead contacted DEC to discuss the use of the town-owned property at EPCAL for storage of vehicles, but the private property owner involved did not.”

On Tuesday, DEC officials and state troopers were onsite and by Wednesday cars were seen being loaded onto flatbed trucks and removed from the EPCAL property.

A security guard working for Copart at the site said no more cars were being allowed into the property, and he did not allow a reporter to enter the property.

Representatives from Copart could not be immediately reached for comment.

The cars being stored through the town’s lease also amount to in the thousands, but they are parked on the unused runways at the former Grumman facility.

DEC officials have said they do not have a problem with the town’s arrangement.

psquire@timesreview.com