In a training exercise that also cleans up a sensitive environmental area, an air team from the New York Army National Guard extracted and dropped abandoned vehicles from the Pine Barrens region of Westhampton Thursday.

The team, led by Chief Warrant Officer Richard Siracusano, worked in collaboration with the New York State Department Of Environmental Protection and local law enforcement to rid the area of "derelict" vehicles.

Thursday, the 74th car was removed from the area since 1994, when the program began.

"The only reason we do it is because it facilitates our training," said Siracusano, 52. "It benefits us as well as benefiting the state and the county," he said.

The demonstration started at 9 Thursday morning and lasted into the late afternoon. All of the drop zones were located near Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, where the Blackhawk helicopter they used could land and refuel.

In one zone, located just off County Road 51, three abandoned cars were dropped in during the afternoon. The first was a run-down, rusted Oldsmobile brought in from an area near the Peconic River, dumped there years back.

"This is a vehicle that we couldn't get out by conventional means," said Sgt. Arthur Pendzick, chairman of the Pine Barrens Law Enforcement Council. "It's really a nuisance to the Pine Barrens," said Pendzick, of the Suffolk County Police Department.

The vehicles are either junked or sold for scrap metal.

"It's all about safeguarding and protecting the environment for future generations," said Pendzick, 60.

Part of the danger these vehicles pose is that chemicals leaking from them can seep into the ground water and harm the surrounding wildlife, he said.

"We patrol the area for illegal dumping and illegal ATV activity," said Pendzick. "The helicopters from the National Guard are also our eye-in-the-sky for wildfires," he said.

The commission in conjunction with the National Guard has been removing abandoned cars from the area since 1994, when the Pine Barrens Act first passed.

"They're always finding cars and as long as it's a long, honest day's work, we'll do it," said Siracusano. "It's a great chance for us to do our part, pulling these cars out, and gain the training experience," he said.

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