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Jun 25, 2010 4:21 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Army National Guard removes five abandoned vehicles from pine barrens

Jun 25, 2010 4:21 PM

It’s a bird ... it’s a plane ...

No, it’s a powder blue 1950s-era Peugeot.

The French-made car turned a few heads last Thursday, June 17, when a New York Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter extracted the vehicle, which had been abandoned in the woods north of Gabreski Airport decades earlier, and transported it to the Westhampton airfield, where it was later placed on a flatbed truck to be taken to be recycled.

The Peugeot had been in the woods so long that it had small trees growing through its rusting frame, which had actually sunk between 6 and 8 inches into the ground, according to Suffolk County Park Police Sergeant Arthur Pendzick, who helped coordinate the vehicle removals. Army National Guard extraction crew members had to dig out the rusted car before hooking it up to a 60-foot-long orange sling cable that was attached to the helicopter, said Sgt. Pendzick, who also serves as chairman of the Pine Barrens Law Enforcement Council.

The Peugeot was one of five cars that Army National Guard members, with the help of their Black Hawk helicopter, removed from the pine barrens last Thursday. The initiative was part of a program, started in the mid-1990s, that is designed to protect the more than 1,000 acres of woods that make up the Long Island Pine Barrens, which sit above Long Island’s protected drinking water supplies.

Including the five cars that were extracted and airlifted last week, 74 abandoned cars have been removed under the program, according to Captain Timothy Byrnes of the State Department of Environmental Conservation, which also assisted with the initiative. The program is run by the Army National Guard and overseen by the Central Pine Barrens Commission and its three councils: the Law Enforcement Council, the Wildfire Task Force and the Protected Lands Council.

“We’re the guys who sling stuff around,” said Chief Warrant Officer Richard Siracusano, the aviation safety officer for the New York Army National Guard, who helped coordinate last Thursday’s activities.

He explained that Black Hawk helicopters can lift loads weighing up to 8,000 pounds, at least four times what they were asked to carry last week. Members of his unit, the Army Aviation Support Facility Number 1 based at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, utilize the vehicle removals as training missions, he said.

Officer Siracusano said hikers and hunters typically stumble across the abandoned cars and report their location to the Suffolk County Park Police. Park rangers then notify the Suffolk County Police Department, which runs the vehicle identification numbers on the cars and trucks to ensure that they have not been associated with any criminal activity. The abandoned vehicles that are not impounded by police are later airlifted from the woods so their metal can be recycled, Sgt. Pendzick said.

After a few snags that delayed the start of last week’s extraction, the Black Hawk helicopter left Gabreski Airport at around 11 a.m. and dropped off an oversized steel basket in the woods in Flanders. That was the location of a second vehicle, a 1950s-era truck also abandoned decades earlier. The truck was in such bad shape that it had to be cut into pieces before being loaded into the metal basket and carried out by the helicopter. The truck’s parts were also brought back to the airport.

Three other abandoned vehicles—a Toyota, a Volkswagen and a brown Oldsmobile 88—were removed from the woods near the Peconic River and airlifted to a wooded area to the west of County Road 51 in Eastport, Sgt. Pendzick said. The metal from those vehicles also will be recycled.

“Some of these cars have been there for 40 or 50 years,” he said.

Last week’s initiative was the first of its kind since last October, when six or seven abandoned vehicles were removed from the woods in western Suffolk County, according to Officer Siracusano. He said his unit conducted such missions much more frequently in the 1990s, resulting in the removal of dozens of abandoned cars.

Those involved with last week’s mission said that fewer cars are being abandoned in the pine barrens by their owners, most likely because the price of scrap metal has climbed. Also, junk yards now usually pay owners a few bucks for their junked cars, they said.

“How many cars are still out there?” Officer Siracusano said, repeating the question he had just been asked. “Who knows?”

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By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 24, 10 6:26 PM