CALVERTON, NEW YORK — Where do you park 30,000 storm-damaged vehicles - while avoiding further environmental disaster? That's now a question facing many people in the northeastern United States.
An idyllic winter scene - deer, horses, snow, a beautiful natural pine reserve, lakes and streams - that make New York's Long Island more than just a summer beach playground.
And in its midst, an abandoned airport on the eastern end of the island - with almost 20,000 vehicles ruined by Superstorm Sandy.
These vehicles, and thousands more at other sites, continue to be transported from the hard-hit storm areas every day. They may sit here for weeks or months until salvage companies come, take them away, and sell them - primarily to online buyers around the world. It seems that as one car leaves, there is another to take its place.
“They have been swept by the Atlantic Ocean down the roads, slammed into buildings and other cars," said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. "If they were intact they would not have been written off as totally worthless by the insurance companies.”
The group believes these cars, and those at other locations, create a hazard to Long Islanders' drinking water - due to the leakage of gasoline, oil, antifreeze and other chemicals into the local aquifers.
Three million people depend on the quality of this water. They can not get it from upstate reservoirs, and what goes into the ground goes into their water, and this should be none of it,” he said.
The Town of Riverhead negotiated a $2.7 million contract to store the salvaged cars for up to one year. Town Supervisor Sean Walter says just because a car was submerged does not mean there is going to be leakage into the aquifer.
"We really believe any environmental disaster claims are really unfounded, and objectively looking at these vehicles they do not look any different than any vehicles parked at a suburban mall across the country,” he said.
Copart is one of the major salvage companies handling the Sandy vehicles. A man identified only as Brian gave us an idea where these cars will end up.
“All over the world, really. We have got a lot that are going overseas to the Middle East, a lot to Africa, different parts, and a lot going down Central America,” he said.
There are concerns in the U.S. that Sandy-damaged cars are being sold to unwitting buyers, and many law enforcement agencies in the country give advice on how to check for damage. As one Texas salvage dealer said, in any flood-damaged car sale, there is one thing to remember, “Let the buyer beware.”