Concerns over Sandy-damaged cars at EPCAL

EPCAL, Calverton, Hurricane Sandy, Riverhead Town Board
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Some 5,000 cars had arrived at EPCAL by Monday.

Cars damaged in superstorm Sandy have begun arriving by the thousands to the Enterprise Park in Calverton, both on town land and private property there.

The Riverhead Town Board last week approved a $1 million lease agreement for an automobile auction company to lease some 52 acres. Under the agreement, the cars, trucks and SUV’s are being stored on unused, western runways and taxiways at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, a former Grumman F-14 fighter jet plant property.

But vehicles are also showing up at another end of the EPCAL site, which is privately owned by developer Jan Burman, town officials said. And in that case, the cars are being kept on grass, and could create environmental problems, said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

Town officials initially issued a stop-work order on the Burman property’s car storing operation, but later rescinded the order because they felt it was an issue for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to look into, rather than the town, Mr. Walter said.

DEC officials could not be immediately reached.

At least one prominent environmentalist believes no damaged cars should be stored at the property, whether on grass or not, and expressed disappointment in the Town Board’s judgement in unanimously approving the one lease.

“Riverhead had a long history of anti-environmental behavior at EPCAL, but turning the Pine Barrens into a junk yard probably takes the cake,” said Richard Amper, the executive director of the Riverhead-based Long Island Pine Barrens Society.

Mr. Amper has asked the DEC and Pine Barrens Commission to investigate the environmental impacts of storing cars at EPCAL. He said oils and fluids from the cars could seep into the ground and groundwater there.

The cars come from New York City, Long Island, and Rockland and Westchester counties and are being stored while insurance companies decide if they can be repaired. The town is being paid $3,200 per acre per month for the use of 52.14 acres for an initial period of six months. That works out to $1,001,088. The deal also allows for two three-month extensions, which could double that total.

“The cars will only be kept on the runway and taxiways only,” Mr. Walter said. “They will not be kept on the grass.”

He said the DEC is looking into this arrangement and doesn’t want any cars parked on grasslands, so the cars will all be on paved surfaces.

The other car storage area is on or near the eastern runway area where Sky Dive Long Island used to be headquartered on Jan Way. A reporter was unable to reach the area Monday and could not tell for sure where the vehicles were being stored.

Details of the private lease agreement were not available. A representative for Insurance Auto Auctions, a national company, said the company is only working with Riverhead Town and was not involved in the other agreement. Under the town lease, over 200,000 cars can be stored.

Mr. Amper said the car-storing “is the dumbest idea yet that’s been proposed for EPCAL, and I thought you couldn’t get much dumber than an indoor ski mountain.”

“The last place these cars belong is on a state-designated groundwater protection area,” he continued. “We’re talking about thousands of cars for six months to a year. It’s a completely inappropriate use for the site but it’s consistent with the environment-be-damned attitude of Supervisor Walter and the Town Board.”

Mr. Walter responded that Mr. Amper’s comments were “silly” and that he was just trying to get attention.

Even if vehicles are parked on the runways, he said, there will still be rainwater runoff from the pavement into the ground.

He said there were already about 5,000 on the eastern runways as of Monday afternoon.

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Read more in the Nov. 22 edition of the News-Review newspaper.