And then came the cars. Cars as far the eye could see.
Just a few weeks after superstorm Sandy ravaged the Northeast, storm-disabled cars, trucks and SUVs began arriving by the truckload to town-owned land in Calverton and other points on the East End.
Riverhead Town inked three separate deals in late 2012 with an Illinois-based auto auction company to store cars on Calverton Enterprise Park tarmacs. And the town is being paid handsomely for that space, with lease payments likely amounting to about $2 million with a potential for extended leases — and more money — in 2013.
But the storage of thousands of cars did not come without controversy, as environmentalists expressed concern about batteries and petroleum products leaking from cars and toward protected groundwater.
“Riverhead has a long history of anti-environmental behavior at EPCAL, but turning the Pine Barrens into a junk yard probably takes the cake,” fumed Richard Amper, the executive director of the Riverhead-based Long Island Pine Barrens Society.
While state Department of Environmental Conservation officials were OK with the town’s deals, other vehicles stored on grass on private property there were ordered to be moved — though DEC officials in late December said that still wasn’t happening.
As for the town land in EPCAL, thousand of cars are expected to cycle through the property as they get assessed and auctioned off.
With more and more cars arriving to other points on the East End, often private properties, the state Pine Barrens Commission, comprising local and state officials, was last examining the situation and trying to figure out how best to address potential environmental issues.