An Open Letter to Luminati Aerospace:
If there was any doubt that you’d arrived in “the sticks,” it was surely dispelled last night when your first public town meeting was opened by an elderly resident performing an extended, a cappella medley of “The Addams Family” theme song and “Monster Mash,” ending with a costumed flourish. It was charming, to be sure; all present applauded and laughed good-naturedly. Yet, it nonetheless symbolized the lack of sophistication with which our local government conducts its business.
Your presentation was flawless: heartfelt, persuasive, and informative (given the secrecy which shrouds your product). Even the most hardened cynic among us (probably me) accepted your plans and explanations at face value, and found them sufficient.
That I proceeded to voice concerns with the details of the runway lease agreement is not something you should take personally. Just because you’re good guys with an innovative and exciting plan for Riverhead doesn’t mean the document—prepared by others—is a competent and fair contract.
Keep in mind that, until last night, the lease agreement was literally the only information to which the public had access. And, we had no way to know that some or all of the terms “carried over” from the old Skydive operation. We were flying blind, so to speak, with only the terms printed on paper.
Another thing to remember is that Riverhead has a long history of bright-eyed plans that have crashed and burned at EPCAL. All were shrouded in secrecy until their unveiling. A few years ago, our town board gushed about another “dream team”— promising to build an indoor ski mountain— and posed with their poster-sized deposit check. Some of us have long memories; forgive our skepticism.
Finally, our town board members typically have little to no business experience. One said of a convicted-killer-turned-developer: “He says he’s not going to illegally mine sand, and I take him at his word.”
We’re also in the midst of a hotly contested election. One incumbent candidate spoke harshly about your proposed runway agreement at a public forum last week, but walked it back last night in your presence, declaring: “I’m looking to create a roadway to success for you.”
It’s left to the taxpayers to look out for town interests, ensuring every “i” is dotted and “t” crossed.
Bryan DeLuca got it right when he described the concerns I voiced as “small potatoes.” Now that you’ve addressed items which were obscure, I think so, too.
Given your clarifications, particularly with regard to runway use and maintenance, I’m confident you’ll readily agree to provide the few points of written assurance the town needs to protect its biggest owned asset. I’m equally confident you won’t take offense at being asked to put your verbal assurances in writing. A quick outline follows:
• Runway upkeep. Stipulate the condition in which the runway will be maintained. You heard numerous speakers express concern that it not be “repaired” by converting to blacktop, which would severely limit its capacity. I recognize that restoring it to original condition requires sizable investment… and represents value to the town. The document should capture your actual intentions.
• Runway use. One option here is to state plainly that the runway will be open for use by all qualified parties, that no fees will be charged, and that your salient interest is maximum use with minimum conflict. An alternative is to state that, if any fees are charged for runway use, they’ll be shared with the town in a specific ratio.
You’ll control this asset for up to 30 years; it’s reasonable for the town to have certainty it will either serve as incentive to attract more new and compatible businesses and jobs, or will generate revenue.
• Abandonment. As written, you’ll control the runway even if the nature of your business changes radically. A clause should provide that if Luminati runway use drops below a specified threshold, control will pass to more active users or revert to the town.
• Insurance. We now know that the $5 million coverage limit—per incident and annual aggregate—is left over from another business, much smaller in size and scope. Upgrade this at least to the higher limits you already have in place.
• Hazardous materials. Agree to proactively inform town officials about the types and quantities of materials recognized as potentially hazardous which will be used or stored on the site.
• Wildlife clearing. Agree to inform and coordinate with town and state conservation officials in the event “large numbers of wildlife,” as the contract states, must be cleared.
I’ll be shocked if you find any of these suggestions unreasonable or objectionable.
I apologize for presenting in this forum, but our board members are evidently too star-struck to ask a single substantive question, let alone request improvements for the benefit of the town.
I’m no aerospace engineer, but I hold a few patents, and IP is at the core of my manufacturing business. It’s not hard to see the value — and the potential— you bring to our community. Though you won’t see me genuflect in your direction, I’m as enthused as anyone that you’re coming to Riverhead.
It’s also clear that what you build here will in all likelihood dwarf the contributions of all the politicians passing through town hall, in this and future terms.
You’re probably not aware that your exit last night was highly disruptive. Though your hearing was the first item on a long agenda of town business, the meeting ground to a halt for 10 minutes while the supervisor presided over an empty dais, the other town board members having mobbed the lobby like teen groupies seeking Luminati autographs (or votes, or campaign contributions). You did nothing wrong, but it was quite the spectacle.
Welcome to Riverhead.
Larry Simms is a resident of South Jamesport
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