The charred remains of vehicles burnt in a fire late Wednesday night on the runway at EPCAL where flood-damaged vehicles are being stored. RiverheadLOCAL photo.

The explosion and ensuing fire that consumed five cars being stored on a runway at EPCAL Wednesday night demonstrates exactly what residents were worried about when we objected to the town’s plan to allow hundreds, if not thousands, of storm-damaged vehicles to be stored at the EPCAL site.

No one was injured, and that is a true blessing. The situation could have been wildly different if even the slightest factors (such as a simple breeze) came into play.

Unfortunately, the firefighters had to use foam to put out the blaze, and the foam and remnants of the fluids not drained from the vehicles flowed off the runway onto the grass, putting our groundwater supply at risk.
When the town board put this resolution up for adoption at the CDA meeting on Sept. 8, a number of community members from across Riverhead Town asked questions and spoke out in opposition. 

I followed up with an email also in opposition on Sept. 9.  I clearly defined all the reasons why such storage was a danger to the community and surrounding environment.  Being an advocate for clean water for my community, my main concern were pollutants that could leak from damaged vehicles and further contaminate the groundwater. It’s not a secret this area is already highly contaminated by the former Navy ownership of the site.  In my email, I did raise the concern about the dangers related to potential fire among the stored cars.  Depending on how the fire was extinguished, not only could the remnants of a fire impact the drinking water, but any sizable fire could spread easily, thus putting first responders in grave danger and endangering the welfare of the local residents if the fire could not be contained and became a ‘wildfire.’  I did not receive any response from the town board. Not a single word.

On Sept. 22, a number of residents attended the town’s water forum.  During this meeting, the concerns of car storage were raised again by numerous residents. One of the Manorville residents, a firefighter who has dedicated 49 years to the department, spoke out in terms of how difficult it would be to fight a fire in such a vast area with no access to a public water supply adjacent to the runway.+

After the meeting, it was reported by the town’s environmental consultant that the insurance company running the operation had fire extinguishers on hand. Does the town board really think the community is foolish enough to expect that some handheld extinguishers are capable of putting out fires that spread among vehicles? The environmental consultant also stated that any minor leaks would be left to evaporate in the sun. Do they think the residents believe that the sun magically shines under the parked cars at EPCAL?
The town board knew with certainty that this storage site was a concern to the community. The residents knew very well what could happen in the event of fire, and instead of listening to the voices of the community, all five members of the town board unanimously and actively chose to continue making money from the site rather than protect the safety of the residents. We hoped with sincerity that we would not have a fire incident, but those hopes faded overnight on Wednesday.  
The Manorville and Calverton communities have experienced their share of the negative consequences related to this site for decades, and, frankly, we cannot take much more. What we are experiencing today is the result of elected officials placing higher value on money than the people they have vowed to protect and represent. This is the essence of making decisions without consideration for community or environmental impact.

All town board members who voted yes on this resolution need to be held accountable beginning now. The town board members have difficulty hearing and responding to the concerns of their constituents.

I say to you Supervisor Aguiar, Councilwoman Kent, Councilman Hubbard, Councilman Beyrodt, and Councilman Rothwell: There are to be no excuses accepted here by your residents. Do not say that the contract has been in place for years or that you did not have involvement in the original contract. Each of you, in fact, were elected with the promise that you would do better for your constituents than your predecessors. We are tired of lip service. Show the police officers, firefighters, and the residents that you put us before the cash you are collecting. Cancel this contract now. Your time to make this right commences immediately. If silly season is your focus right now, consider this: get rid of those cars, before the residents get rid of you.

Kelly McClinchy is a member of the Calverton Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant Restoration Advisory Board. She lives in Manorville.

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