Environmentalists call for action on cars stored in the Pine Barrens

COURTESY PHOTO | Cars stored on the runway at the Enterprise Park in Calverton.

A number of area environmental organizations, led by Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, are asking the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to take action on the storage of Superstorm Sandy-damaged cars in the Pine Barrens and other designated groundwater protection areas.

“Gasoline, oil, anti-freeze, lubricants and the interaction of salt water with auto parts pose a threat to Long Island’s Sole Source Aquifer,” a Dec. 18 letter the groups sent to DEC commissioner Joseph Martens states. “To date, your Department has not been effective in remedying this problem.”

A total of 20 East End environmental or civic groups signed the letter.

Since Sandy flooded much of Long Island, a number of “total loss” cars wrecked by the water have been acquired by insurance companies, which make arrangements with companies that auction the wrecked cars off to licensed recyclers. The cars are being stored at numerous sites throughout the island.

The Dec. 18 letter comes a day before the state’s Central Pine Barrens Commission voted to prosecute people who store these cars within the core of the Pine Barrens, but not within the compatible growth area.

The core is the section of the Pine Barrens where new development is largely prohibited, while the compatible growth area does allow some development with approval from the commission.

Mr. Amper had urged the commission to prosecute the storing of cars in the compatible growth areas as well.

The commission on Wednesday debated the issue, with Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter opposed to having the Pine Barrens Commission get involved in enforcing the car storage issue, which is already, in some cases, being enforced by the DEC. The supervisors of Riverhead, Southampton and Brookhaven towns, along with a state and county representative, comprise the commission’s members.

Riverhead Town is itself leasing the runways and taxiways at the Enterprise Park at Calverton to a company storing Sandy-soaked cars, and stands to make close to $2 million from doing so. The DEC has said it has no problems with that, because it’s on pavement, but the DEC has issued violations to another company storing cars on grasslands at EPCAL.

“I don’t see the purpose of bringing the Pine Barrens into it,” Mr. Walter said. The supervisor said he’s been “trying to not have” the battle of section 9.2 of the Pine Barrens land use plan, and he said involving the Pine Barrens commission in the car storage issue would trigger that debate again.

Riverhead Town believes that “economic development” at EPCAL is exempt from review by the Pine Barrens Commission, as set forth in section 9.2 of the land use plan. Riverhead Town officials in the mid 1990s refused to support the Pine Barrens law unless that exemption was included.

However, there is no mention of that exemption in the actual Pine Barrens law, which was adopted by the state legislature two years earlier than the land use plan.

“That (exemption) has no legal standing because it contradicts the statute,” said Mr. Amper said at Wednesday’s meeting. He said it’s “always better to have both” the Pine Barrens Commission and the DEC enforcing things.

Mr. Walter said the commission will be less likely to get temporary restraining orders from judges in car storage cases without Riverhead’s support.

The commission then went into executive session, emerged a few minutes later and voted to prosecute only car storage in the EPCAL core.  The runways at EPCAL are in the compatible growth area of the Pine Barrens, but not in the core.

Mr. Amper disagrees with the DEC’s decision to allow the cars to be stored on paved areas in EPCAL.

“The notion that there is no threat to the water supply because cars are parked on pavement is incorrect.

The cars at EPCAL could remain for six months to a year.

The letter adds, “Worse still, is the suggestion on the part of (DEC) Region One officials that the Department lacks authority to protect these vital natural resources.

There have been inquiries about storing cars in closed sand mines, such as the Calverton Industries sand mine site on Route 25 in Calverton, according to Mr. Walter.

When asked about the potential for cars to be stored in a closed, inactive sand mine, DEC spokesperson Aphrodite Montalvo wrote, “DEC does not have jurisdiction in former mine sites where the site mine permit is closed and no additional environmental concerns (wetlands, protected species) exist.  Any active mines wishing to use their property for vehicle storage will require a permit modification for change of use from DEC.”

DEC has also said it has no problem with cars being stored on paved areas.

But DEC has issued a set of guidelines where permits may be needed for storing cars.

These include areas within 300 feet of tidal wetlands or 100 feet of freshwater wetlands; areas that have threatened or endangered species’ habitats; regulated mining facility or landfills, and registered solid waste facilities.

In addition to the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, the letter to the DEC also was signed by representatives from the Group for the East End, the North Fork Environmental Council, the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Friends of the Bay, the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, the Nature Conservancy, the North Fork Audubon Society, the Southampton Town Civic Coalition, and the North Fork Clean Water Coalition, among others.

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