Foes of Sandy auto auction yard go to court

Some residents from a neighborhood near Horseblock Road Some residents from a neighborhood near Horseblock Road and Bellport Avenue near the Yaphank-Medford Line oppose a proposed auto auction lot to house up to 7,000 vehicles damaged by superstorm Sandy. (April 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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A group of residents and the Suffolk County Water Authority are opposing a plan to clear 55 acres of forest to create an auto auction yard for thousands of superstorm Sandy vehicles in Yaphank, contending it would harm the environment and drinking water.

About 25 residents filed an Article 78 claim in State Supreme Court in Riverhead against Brookhaven Town and Brookhaven Planning Board arguing that up to 7,000 vehicles would leak nitrogen, oil and other fluids into the ground, court records show.

Suffolk Judge Peter Mayer is reviewing motions on the matter and has until June to determine if the yard should be developed at Horseblock Road and Bellport Avenue on the Yaphank-Medford line.

Residents filed the Article 78, which allows action against a governmental entity, in February because they want the town to take a harder look at the project's environmental impact, Jeanne Forster, an attorney for Queens-based Bailey & Sherman, representing the residents, said this week. The town conducted a lower environmental impact study, but a project such as this should have a more in-depth one because of possible consequences such as noise, traffic and contamination, she said.

The auto yard plan has also drawn attention from the water authority, which in a Dec. 3 letter urged the planning board, the governing body that approved the project, to find another "more suitable site." The authority has a well next to the proposed yard site, and contaminants that reach groundwater beneath the parcel would probably appear in the well water, the letter read.

Several planning board members did not return calls for comment.

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The salvage of Sandy vehicles has had an enormous adverse environmental impact that has not been considered properly by any branch of government, said Richard Amper, executive director of Long Island Pine Barrens Society, a nonprofit focused on drinking-water protection.

"What enters the ground enters our drinking water," he said.

NMF Holdings LLC, also named as a defendant in the claim, owns the 85 acres of forest land at the location, 55 of which would be cleared to store vehicles, town officials said.

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Brookhaven Councilwoman Connie Kepert said a special permit amendment, which she voted against, to the town code that the town board approved in January 2012 allows outdoor storage as a primary use and set the stage for the auction lot.

"This was never allowed in the Town of Brookhaven before," she said. "I don't think this is something the Town of Brookhaven wants. There is an environmental consequence and visible consequence."

Mel Evans, president of Yaphank/Medford Concerned Neighbors Association, said the planning board ignored residents' concerns. "This is a big impact on my neighborhood, and I'm afraid of drinking contaminated water."

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