Judge blocks vehicle-storage plan at Yaphank site

A state judge has blocked a plan to A state judge has blocked a plan to clear 55 forested acres in Yaphank to create an auction and storage facility for more than 7,000 vehicles -- including some damaged by superstorm Sandy. (Dec. 16, 2013) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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A state judge has blocked a plan to clear 55 forested acres in Yaphank to create an auction and storage facility for more than 7,000 vehicles -- including some damaged by superstorm Sandy.

State Supreme Court Justice Peter H. Mayer, in a scathing 21-page decision, said Brookhaven Town officials failed to take a "hard look" at the proposal and hastily prepared a study concluding the vehicles posed little threat to the environment.

Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto said Monday the town would not appeal the decision.

She said the town had agreed to "fast-track" approvals for the storage facility because damaged and abandoned cars were "turning up everywhere" after Sandy struck in October 2012.

"[Town officials] . . . felt that if they could get this up and running, this would solve a lot of our issues," Eaderesto said in an interview.

But civic activists and their attorneys, who had filed the suit this year, said Monday the storage plan had been in the works long before Sandy.

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"They totally tried to use this emergency as an excuse to push this through," said Jeanne Forster, a Queens attorney representing about 25 Yaphank and Medford residents.

In his decision, Mayer noted that the proposal was filed with town officials on Oct. 25, 2012 -- four days before Sandy swept across Long Island. The town planning board approved the plan in January.

"They processed this entire application in less time than it takes to get a building permit," said Sharon A. Wiesmann, president of the Yaphank Taxpayers and Civic Association.

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Backers of the plan -- including site owner NMF Holdings and its partner, Insurance Auto Auctions -- had told town officials they would use the site to store vehicles that had been repossessed or damaged in accidents or by Sandy.

Eaderesto said Monday the town would require a complete environmental review if NMF Holdings and Insurance Auto Auctions pursue the plan.

NMF attorneys declined to comment Monday.

In a statement, an Insurance Auto Auctions spokeswoman said the court decision "may slow our progress," but added the firm "remains focused on continuing to develop our business operations."

The Suffolk County Water Authority also had questioned the plan and asked town officials to seek an alternative site because of a nearby well.

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"We applaud the court's decision," authority chief executive Jeffrey W. Szabo said Monday.

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