The New York State Pine Barrens Commission is scheduled to meet Tuesday in a special session to consider an enforcement action over Hurricane Sandy-damaged cars that are being temporarily stored at Enterprise Park at Calverton in the Pine Barrens.
At the meeting, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Tuesday at Brookhaven Town Hall, the Commission will debate taking legal action through the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
According to the Commission, the Pine Barrens are critical because they are part of eight special groundwater protection areas designated by the state legislature to allow rainwater to recharge aquifers without picking up contaminants from human activity.
Since Riverhead Town agreed to lease three parcels at EPCAL for temporary storage of Hurricane Sandy-damaged cars, some environmental and civic leaders have complained to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Pine Barrens Commission that fluids from the cars could contaminate drinking water at Calverton and other Pine Barrens sites.
The DEC, however, has said that sites leased by Riverhead town on EPCAL runways or other paved areas are not a concern.
However, in a November letter, the DEC did order Sandy-damaged cars removed from another, grassy parcel of EPCAL, owned by Jan Burman.
In a letter dated Nov. 26, the NYSDEC'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.
Those protesting the cars stored at EPCAL fear gasoline, oil, antifreeze and lubricants, along with the interaction of salt water on auto parts, will contaminate the nation’s first federally-dedicated sole source aquifer, which Long Islanders depend upon for drinking water.
According to Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, the Pine Barrens Commission may limit the area where enforcement will be called for, to only the core preservation area of the Pine Barrens – about 55,000 acres. The 45,000 additional acres of the Pine Barrens, known as the compatible growth area, could be excluded because The Town of Riverhead has a seat on the Commission and also a $2 million contract to store 15,000 cars in the Pine Barrens.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said none of the cars on town-leased land at EPCAL, including the cars on Burman-owned land, will be affected by the proposed enforcement action; he added that the Pine Barrens Commission does not have jurisdiction over the town-owned property at EPCAL that is geared toward economic development.
“Superstorm Sandy is teaching Long Island a lot,” Amper said. “We’ve learned that there exists no organized effort to respond to threats to the Pine Barrens, such as the 'Sandy Cars.' What isn’t new is the impact of money and politics.”