One service that came through superstorm Sandy mostly unscathed was water supply. People stocked up on bottled water beforehand, but in the vast majority of cases, our public agencies did just fine and kept delivering high-quality drinking water. Now, one of Sandy's effects, ruined cars, may yet degrade this precious resource.
Thousands of those cars, awaiting either final disposition by insurance adjusters or auction and salvage, are sitting on paved runway space at the former Grumman Corp. assembly plant in Calverton, or on grasslands. Under state law, the pine barrens are a sensitive groundwater recharge area, the last place you'd want damaged vehicles, with the potential to leak gas, oil and saltwater.
The Town of Riverhead, facing a $6-million budget hole next year, figures that leasing out space on its Calverton land can bring in more than $2 million, if the cars stay there long enough. But budget hole or no, these cars need to be gone sooner, rather than later.
The Engel Burman Group, leasing out its nearby private Calverton land, must remove cars it has parked on grassland. That's what the Department of Environmental Conservation ordered. Burman must comply -- fast.
The town at least has put the cars on a paved surface. But that's not a lot better than parking them on grass, as Burman did. Rain falls, and contamination from the cars can wash into the groundwater. So, no matter where the cars are stored at Calverton, the town, the DEC and the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning & Policy Commission need to be hypervigilant. And the private insurance and auction firms must act swiftly to move the cars out of there.
On Nov. 5, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order directing local authorities to remove debris. He later ordered insurance companies to move fast on claims. Speed should be the watchword at Calverton, too.
Sandy was a disaster we could not duck. But contamination of groundwater is a disaster we can avert, if we deal intelligently with these cars and other debris.