Hurricane Sandy-damaged cars continue to spark contention on the East End.
On Friday, Southampton Town attorneys went to Suffolk County Supreme Court after commencing litigation against the same car auction firm currently in hot water with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation over cars ordered to be removed from environmentally sensitive property at Enterprise Park at Calverton.
Now, cars parked without authorization on Speonk-Riverhead Road in Speonk have revved up the tempers of residents and elected officials alike.
A joint release on the issue was released on Thursday by both Southampton and Brookhaven Town Supervisors Anna Throne-Holst and Ed Romaine.
"As we work to expeditiously address the immediate and pressing needs caused by Hurricane Sandy, we must remain mindful of the potential for long term and costly consequences if proper and thorough environmental and safety precautions are not taken," the release stated. "The storage of vehicles damaged by the storm must be approached with caution due to the high risk of contamination, health and safety issues they present."
Property owners or representatives interested in storing damaged vehicles on parcels located in the Towns of Brookhaven or Southampton were urged to contact town supervisors to review eligibility requirements and to ensure the appropriate permissions are secured.
"Mass storage of damaged vehicles absent the required approvals and permits will be not be tolerated," the release read. "Violators may be subject to substantial fines, jail time and/or loss of their certificates of occupancy."
The Southampton Town board voted to authorized enforcement action against appropriate parties related to the use and occupancy of 144 Old Country Road in Speonk, Jennifer Garvey, spokeperson for Throne-Holst said; the matter was slated to be brought before a Supreme Court judge on Friday.
According to Garvey, Copart Auctions, a car auctioning company -- and the same firm ordered by the DEC to remove cars from a 35-acre parcel at EPCAL owned by Jan Burman of the Engel Burman Group -- placed the cars on Speonk-Riverhead Road, unbeknownst to town officials.
"Vehicles damaged by Sandy were being trucked to the Speonk area beginning last week for storage on a number of vacant lots and in a large sand pit," Garvey said. "However, this is not a permitted use at these locations and poses serious environmental, public health and safety issues. The parcels are located in the Pine Barrens Compatible Growth Area, above the drinking water aquifer."
Over 3000 cars have been deposited on the site since last week, she added.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said Copart Auctions, the company depositing the cars at the Speonk site was the same company ordered by the DEC to remove cars from EPCAL due to threatened endangered species; he speculated whether Copart was moving cars from EPCAL to Speonk.
Aphrodite Montalvo, spokeperson for the DEC, said Friday that as far as she can determine, there has been "no movement" of the cars ordered to be removed from the Burman property.
Garvey said town officials were apprised of the storm-ravaged cars in Speonk after a fire broke out when a car was being towed to the site.
The town, Garvey said, "had no knowledge" of the car auction company coming to Speonk.
But, once residents heard about the cars, tempers flared on Facebook as neighbors raised dire environmental concerns; the Speonk land is located in the Pine Barrens.
"It's an an active sand mine -- next stop, groundwater," Garvey said. "It shouldn't be there."
On Friday, the DEC sent out a release providing guidance for storm-damaged vehicle storage, stating that landowners are advised to seek DEC permission in environmentally areas.
The DEC stated that property owners interested in storing cars should seek all necessary approvals prior to accepting vehicles on environmentally sensitive sites, to avoid potential violations.
Areas that may require DEC permissions include regulated tidal and freshwater wetlands and adjacent areas; tidal wetlands adjacent areas include lands within 300 feet of a tidal wetland boundary; freshwater wetland adjacent areas include lands within 100 feet of a freshwater wetland boundary; and threatened or endangered species habitats including, but not limited to, grasslands bird, tiger salamander and piping plover habitats.
Other areas include regulated mining facilities and properties and regulated landfills or former landfills; registered or permitted solid waste facilities must contact the Division of Materials Management to ensure vehicle storage does not interfere with permitted site activities.
In addition, the DEC said vehicles arriving at a storage facility should be inspected upon arrival for leaking fluids, which should be remedied or contained to avoid release of fluids; fluids should not be intentionally released on the ground or to surface water. Any vehicles suggested to be leaking need to be segregated.
The DEC also the storage location should have a contingency plan which includes a description of the actions to be taken by employees in the event of a fire, spill or release of vehicle waste fluids, or the receipt of unauthorized material with the vehicles.
Walter reminded the cars ordered for removal are on a diferent parcel of EPCAL than the recent sites 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.
On Tuesday, the town board voted to authorize a similar agreement on an EPCAL parcel utilized by Skydive Long Island.
A call to the Copart legal department was not immediately returned.