Cars sited on a parcel of land located at Enterprise Park at Calverton have ignited a storm of controversy.
In a letter dated Nov. 26, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Robert F. Marsh, regional supervisor of natural resources, told Jan Burman of the Engel Berman Group that damaged cars stored on a 35-acre EPCAL parcel he owns are a threat to endangered species.
The grassland habitat upon which the cars are stored, Marsh said, is home to two species listed as threatened or endangered in New York State. The storage of vehicles, Marsh said, is taking place within 1000 feet of a documented tiger salamander, Abystoma tigrinum, breeding pond, and within grassland foraging habitat of the northern harrier, Circus cyaneus.
According to the letter, no individual can engage in an activity that could result in a "take" of any endangered species.
The storage of the motor vehicles, the letter stated, "could result in the direct take of tiger salamanders in that the operation of heavy equipment and the storage of cars within upland habitat could crush salamanders that are found in shallow underground burrows. The storage of cars within the grassland is also an adverse modification of foraging habitat for northern harriers."
The area, Marsh said, also serves as a winter foraging habitat for the short-eared owl, another state-endangered species, which come to the area in December. Should they arrive, with the cars still not removed, additional violations could result, Marsh said.
Contravention of the regulations are violations or misdemeanors, punishable by fines of $2350 per violation, Marsh said. Penalties of $2350 may be assessed for each violations, for each species onsite, every day the violation continues.
Burman was ordered to "cease" operations at the location immediately and to remove the vehicles as soon as possible or face enforcement action.
Marsh also sent a letter to Trent Hoban, the regional manager of Copart, the company storing the cars on the Burman-owned land.
"The DEC will always assist property owners to follow best management practices to protect the environment," said DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo. "In this case, the Town of Riverhead contacted DEC to discuss the use of the Town-owned property at EPCAL for storage of vehicles, but the private property owner involved did not. DEC has directed the private property owner and the lessee using that portion of the EPCAL property to take immediate steps to relocate the vehicles to bring the site into compliance."
The cars ordered for removal are on a diferent parcel of EPCAL than the recent site authorized by the town for lease to store cars damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Recently, the Riverhead Town board voted unanimously to authorize use of a 7000 foot runway at EPCAL to temporarily store hundreds of similarly Hurricane Sandy-damaged cars.
The board voted to authorize the Riverhead Community Development Agency to enter into a license agreement for the use of the runway and taxiway areas at EPCAL for the temporary storage of cars damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Due to flooding that led to the damage of over 200,000 cars in the New York area, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order on Nov. 6 mandating the removal of debris in regions devastated by the storm.
To that end, Insurance Auto Auctions Corp., a public salvage auto auction company, will be using the runway, taxiway, and other paved areas at EPCAL for the temporary storage of the damaged vehicles.
The area in questions encompasses 52.14 acres; IAA will pay $3200 an acre per month for the use of the area for an initial period of six months, with two, three-month extensions possible.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said because the vehicles will be placed on asphalt and concrete, the proposal poses no problem; the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, he stressed, has said damaged vehicles should not be placed in yards, or on any impervious survace.
It has not yet been decided if auctions will be held on the property; the company may just screen sales at its Medford location, depending on the town's wishes. Cars will be brought to EPCAL from across New York's five boroughs, as well as Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Approximately 150 cars should be able to fit on an acre.
On Wednesday, Montalvo said the DEC had no issues with the town's agreement. "The DEC is working with the town to follow best management practices to protect the environment. The Town of Riverhead is limiting vehicle storage to paved areas of the property. The DEC does not have jurisdiction over the storage of these cars from a materials management perspective," she said.
Neither Burman nor Walter immediately returned calls for comment.