In a special session last week, the Riverhead Town Board decided to lease out 53 acres of town-owned land in Calverton to store a fleet of auction-ready cars that were damaged during superstorm Sandy.
The town struck that deal as a private developer shook hands with another auto auction firm that will place Sandy-damaged cars on a parcel adjacent to the town-owned lot.
To Town Supervisor Sean Walter, the contract between Riverhead and Insurance Auto Auctions is a "win-win" that will pump up to $168,000 each month into town coffers.
But some worry that the deal is a case of short-term gain, long-term pain because, environmentalists said, the thousands of vehicles that will be on site for six to 12 months could leak oil, gasoline and other chemicals into the groundwater.
Dick Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, said the contaminants could pollute the precious aquifers since the parcel in the Pine Barrens is a state-protected water recharge basin for Long Island's drinking water.
"The cars have to go someplace," Walter said, adding the town board approved the lease at a special session Thursday after being approached by Insurance Auto Auctions. "We stepped up to the plate and are very happy to have them here."
Walter added that the town decided to implement the leasing agreement after the state Department of Environmental Conservation examined the site. The cars will be parked on the runway at the Enterprise Park in Calverton, the taxiway and associated paved areas. The other parcel held by a private developer sits on grassland. DEC officials, however, could not be reached for comment to confirm that they have examined and approved either plan.
Jeanene O'Brien, a spokeswoman for Insurance Auto Auctions, based in Westchester, Ill., said the firm adheres to environmental concerns wherever it does business. "We are definitely environmental stewards of any area that we occupy," she said.
Amper said the deal could be devastating to the area's future. "The hurricane was a natural disaster which nobody could prevent," he said. "To go out and create our own natural disaster would be merely to compound the disaster that Sandy is."With Emily C. Dooley