State orders removal of storm-damaged vehicles

Cars damaged by superstorm Sandy were moved to Cars damaged by superstorm Sandy were moved to a lot in Calverton. (Nov. 20, 2012). Photo Credit: John Roca

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The state Department of Environmental Conservation has ordered the removal of thousands of vehicles damaged by superstorm Sandy from grassland at the Calverton Camelot Industrial Park to protect critical animal habitats.

The cars, trucks and boats were taken to the park after private developer Engel Burman Group of Garden City rented 35 acres to an Illinois car company, Copart, to store its damaged auction vehicles.

The Town of Riverhead has a similar contract with its town-owned land in Enterprise Park, adjacent to the Engel Burman parcel. Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walters said the private and town parcels each hold about 6,000 vehicles. But because the Riverhead Town contract's vehicles are parked on a runway, the DEC is not requiring their removal, said DEC spokesman Bill Fonda.

The DEC sent letters Monday to Engel Burman and Copart, directing them to move the vehicles off grass at the site, because of concerns of damage to nearby habitats for protected tiger salamander and owl and rabbit species.

"DEC has directed the private property owner and the lessee using that portion of the . . . property to take immediate steps to relocate the vehicles to bring the site into compliance," said Fonda.

A statement from Engel Burman said the company was looking at options. "It was our intent to assist the region's hurricane recovery efforts by providing a location for these vehicles and thereby allow them to be removed from scores of neighborhoods," the statement said.

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"Further, it was our intent to follow the lead of the Town of Riverhead, which is also storing damaged cars within close proximity to our location. Obviously, we will be seeking clarification on what is permitted, where and by whom."

The DEC is aiding Copart in finding a new site for the vehicles, he said.

Environmental groups are concerned that thousands of damaged vehicles stored in Calverton, within the protected Pine Barrens region, will hurt groundwater. "The hurricane is not an excuse to degrade our environment," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment of Farmingdale.

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Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said contaminants from the vehicles will end up in the ground no matter where they are stored. "Putting them on the runway isn't going to protect the water," he said.

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