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Eastport farm owner cited on storing Sandy-damaged cars

Vehicles that were damaged during superstorm Sandy are

Vehicles that were damaged during superstorm Sandy are stored in a lot in Calverton. (Dec. 28, 2012) Credit: Doug Kuntz

The Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission cited an Eastport farm owner Tuesday, saying it illegally stored more than a hundred superstorm-Sandy-damaged cars in the pine barrens core, while a longtime environmental advocate criticized the panel for not doing more to protect groundwater.

In a binding resolution, the commission said the Ringhoff Family Llc violated state environmental law with the storage, which officials said could "result in adverse impacts on . . . resources, including groundwater and ecological resources."

The commission will notify the Ringhoffs of the violation, and the family will be expected to respond with a plan for remediation or face action from the state attorney general's office.

The commission also noted that Suffolk County is pursuing legal action against the Ringhoff family "because they believe the storage there is violating a purchase of development rights agreement to preserve the agriculture and to allow it to continue as a farm," said John Pavacic, commission executive director. The county agreed to purchase the Ringhoff farm development rights for $1.7 million in 2011.

Calls to the Ringhoff family and the farm were not returned last evening.

The commission, which is composed of representatives of the town supervisors from Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton; the governor's office; Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone; and Peter Scully, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, voted 4-0 for the resolution. Southampton's representative arrived at the meeting at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville after the vote.

In brief public comments afterward, Richard Amper, executive director of the nonprofit Long Island Pine Barrens Society, decried the resolution as a missed opportunity to address the larger issue of thousands of storm-damaged cars stored near Long Island's drinking water supply.

Amper described Riverhead's contract with a private car storage company to keep thousands of damaged cars at the former Grumman site in Calverton as a "most significant conflict of interest."

Town supervisors, he said, are ignoring the commission's mandate to protect the pine barrens. "We're talking about the citizens' drinking water," Amper told the panel. "This is the greatest betrayal of public trust."

Reached by phone, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the commission simply addressed one instance of violation of state environmental law. "This company came in and took down trees and parked cars on vacant grassland. We would have taken action on the tree removal alone."

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine said each town has the right to investigate environmental issues outside the pine barrens core. "This town is going to go vigorously after people who are illegally storing cars," he said after the vote.

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