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Feb 11, 2009 9:48 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Former Westhampton missile base boasts rich history

Feb 11, 2009 9:48 AM

The impounded cars are strewn across the property, though some are lined up in rows in front of the now-defunct missile garages. The vehicles are stored there because most are vital pieces of evidence for court cases involving DWIs, fatal car accidents and suspected arsons, explained Gil Anderson, the commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Public Works. Mr. Anderson, who is in charge of maintaining the grounds of the former BOMARC base, also oversees a power plant on the site that provides electricity to the entire facility. A county records facility is also located on the property.

Some of the impounded vehicles look as if they were not even involved in accidents. For example, a black Chevrolet Cavalier parked in front of one of the missile garages did not sustain any damage. Those cars will be sold during an annual auction that is hosted by the county. The other vehicles, the ones that have been smashed and mangled in accidents, will be recycled and their metal sold as scrap, according to Mr. Lindsay.

Neon markers have been used by county officials to document each court case, as well as accident or arrest dates, on the corners of some of the vehicles’ windshields. “It’s eerie thinking people could have died in these cars,” said Mr. Anderson while leading a tour of the grounds in the fall.

Untapped Revenue?

The 56 metal garages that once housed the missiles serve as a backdrop on the property. Some of them have fallen into disrepair following decades of neglect while others have been restored. The severely neglected ones are red with rust and most are brimming with piles of junk that were once pieces of equipment used by various county agencies. Old metal desks are shoved into some of the garages while in others, oversized computers that have not been touched since the 1960s are stacked one on top of another.

Suffolk County officials are hopeful that a number of these metal relics, and some of the impounded cars, can be recycled for cash. Officials said that crews will begin sorting through the items as soon as this spring.

Mr. Lindsay explained that Coram-based PK Metals, which had a previous contract with the county, will be removing the scrap metal and cars with help from prisoners from either of Suffolk County’s two jails, including the facility in Riverside. The contractor will not be paid a fee for the work, according to Mr. Lindsay. Instead, the company will pay the county an unknown amount for every pound of scrap metal that is removed from the site. PK Metals will then sell the scrap metal to a third party and keep the profit.

County officials said they could not say exactly how much they will receive for every pound of scrap metal that is recycled, noting that the price fluctuates almost daily. They also could not offer an estimate regarding the total amount of scrap metal that they hope to recycle later this year.

The half-century-old metal garages that housed the nuclear-tipped missiles will not be recycled, according to Mr. Lindsay. After the scrap metal is removed from them, the garages will most likely continue to be used as storage by county agencies, including the Suffolk Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office.

The metal garages are not typical missile silos, according to Mr. Bright, the scholar from Virginia. He explained that a silo is defined as a structure that covers “a missile that is placed into the ground straight up and down.” The structures at the BOMARC site allow the missiles to be kept above ground. “The roof opened up,” Mr. Bright said, explaining how the facilities work.

Mr. Chun explained that Air Force officials opted to build garages instead of silos because the latter are far more expensive to construct. “A silo is pretty expensive to build,” he said. “You have to build underground. A garage is like a coffin. It would open and the missile would be deployed, fired.”

Not a Source

Though the BOMARC facility is located near the Speonk Solvent Plume, a swath of contaminated groundwater located just west of the former missile base, officials with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said the former base is not the source of the contamination. The groundwater was contaminated by an unknown source and the DEC estimates that the plume is about 1.5 miles long and contains several metal degreasers dating back to the end of World War II.

Aphrodite Montalvo, a spokeswoman for the DEC, said the former missile base is not linked to the Speonk plume. “It’s a bit east of the Speonk plume investigation,” she said.

And according to Ms. Montalvo, Brian Jankauskas, the supervisor of the DEC team that is still trying to pinpoint the source of the Speonk plume, has said that the former base is not being investigated.

Last Line of Defense

The 10 BOMARC facilities in the United States and Canada were developed out of the fear of another Pearl Harbor, when Japanese airplanes led a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval base in Hawaii, severely damaging the country’s war fleet and prompting its entrance into World War II. The main difference, Mr. Bright said, was that the BOMARC sites were established to protect America from a possible mainland attack led by the Soviets.

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The real story here should be the amount of contamination that was caused by all of these military sites, the amount that was dumped into the water, the pine barrens and what seeped into the land. Just bearing witness to what was left behind shows the carelessness of this operation. Governor Pataki declared Brownfield Sites at the airport, there seems to be plumes from Speonk to Quiogue I wasn't here back then but I live just south of the airport and its disturbing to think of what lies beneath ...more
By shock (70), whb on Feb 9, 09 8:36 PM
Back in that time they didn't realize how toxic this stuff was.Or didn't care because they had bigger worries , think Cold War.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Feb 10, 09 11:01 AM
The real story is the history of the area and its part in the Cold War defense system. The Press got the story right. Note to "shock"-the airport was there long before you chose to live in Quiogue.
By Lefty46 (56), Westhampton on Feb 10, 09 11:26 PM
I don't live in Quiogue by the way I have no problem with living near an airport just what has happened to all the nuclear waste, and the proper responsiblity of the cleanup , I look at the whole picture not just the past history but the future as well
By shock (70), whb on Feb 11, 09 8:16 AM
Hey, come over to Northampton -- it's nowhere near any flight patterns, former military installations or matériel dumps, and the biggest "highway" anywhere near us is the Moriches-Riverhead Road.

It's quiet, peaceful, one of the most secluded but accessible areas east of the Floyd, and we've got a nice deep lake that doesn['t have olive drab desks, typewriters and file cabinets at the bottom.

On second thought, stay away!
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Feb 11, 09 10:49 AM
Great idea to clean it up - and the $$ to the County is much needed.

Why use a middleman? The County has trucks & people who could take all the scrap directly to recycling facilities. Why settle for half and use a company that is a HUGE
political donor?

I'm sure with budget & service cuts coming - some County employees would be happy to have the work clearing the site. Just a thought.......
By G (342), Southampton on Feb 12, 09 11:10 AM
"G" - you hit the nail directly on the head ! It seems whenever politicians or County officials ( same thing! ) get invilved there is a built in 'slop' factor where the project is mismanaged and money is diverted to "friends" or contributors. Thanks for your perspective, we nedd to keep the crooks somewhat honest, if that's possible.
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Feb 15, 09 8:32 AM
Elyse, You are 100 % correct in your assumption that the plume may have originated from the old BOMARC base, look at the mess from the old fuel depot at Gabreski - the people on Peters Lane all had to be converted to county water, and I doubt that the plume was ever totally cleaned up, since the government was once again investigating itself!
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Feb 15, 09 8:37 AM
Lefty, you once again missed the point - it doesn't matter one bit who was there first, it matters a great deal that the airbase contaminated the groundwater in the area, possibly for a very long time. Try to keep up Lefty!
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Feb 15, 09 8:43 AM
Oh the luxury of hindsight. The island depends on aquifers , but we have landfills, agricultural chemicals, gasoline additive contamination, etc. We all have been very cavalier about what would eventually migrate to our drinking water.
So stop using today's standards against the 1950's. As the news article stated both Bomarc and Nike-Hercules missiles contained nuclear warheads--please read some history of the cold war. Ground water contamination was not part of the equation then.
When ...more
By Rich213 (1), Northport on Mar 29, 09 11:08 AM