Home News Local News Residents voice opposition to biofuel plan by United Riverhead Terminal

Residents voice opposition to biofuel plan by United Riverhead Terminal

Petroleum storage tanks at the United Riverhead Facility this morning. (Photo: Peter Blasl)

A proposal by United Riverhead Terminal to install six tanks for storing 108,000 gallons of biofuel at its Northville facility drew intense opposition from residents of the surrounding area during a public hearing at Riverhead Town Hall last night.

United Riverhead Terminal, owner and operator of the petroleum storage facilities and offshore platform in Northville since 2012, says it seeks to add the biofuel storage tanks at the facility in order to comply with a state law requiring heating oil wholesalers to sell heating oil blended with 5-percent biofuel as of July 1.

The biofuel would be blended with heating oil as well as diesel fuel at the facility’s dispensing racks.

The 286-acre waterfront site in Northville facility has 20 storage tanks, some of which date back to the 1950s when they were built by Northville Industries. Other tanks and the off-shore platform date back to the 1960s.

The facility was constructed before zoning was adopted by the Town of Riverhead in 1965 and as such operates as a pre-existing, non-conforming use. It has since been zoned residential. As such, the addition of new storage tanks is considered an expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming use and requires a special permit from the town board.

The special permit was the subject of last night’s hearing, which filled the town hall meeting room with residents.

Before the town board can decide the special permit application, it must make a determination of significance under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. If the board decides the proposal will have a significant negative impact on the environment, it would require the preparation of an environmental impact statement.

Northville Beach Civic Association president Linda Prizer told the board the application and environmental assessment form filed by URT contained missing or inaccurate information.

The organization’s vice president Kathleen McGraw objected to the application statement that the biofuel would be mixed with heating oil “and other products.”

“How wide open are they leaving this?” she asked.

McGraw said the community was “blindsided” by the inclusion of diesel fuel in the application because at a recent work session meeting with the town board, the applicant only spoke about being required to blend heating oil with biofuel.

Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition president Phil Barbato of Jamesport questioned whether the application was actually a change of use rather than an expansion of an existing use. Blending fuels at the site is a new use, Barbato said.

“I think we’re on the wrong page. This needs to go back to the ZBA,” he said, referring to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which determines use variances.

But Building and Planning administrator Jefferson Murphree said the decision about whether the application represents a new use or an expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming use is made by the zoning officer, Brad Hammond and he has decided it was an expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming use.

Barbato also urged the board to require an environmental impact study before making any decision.

He and other speakers brought up URT’s 2014 application to site two 19,000-gallon tanks to store ethanol at the site, which the company said it intended to use for gasoline it planned to begin storing at distributing from the site.

The facility was previously used for gasoline storage and distribution until roughly the year 2000, general manager Scott Kamm said in 2014.

That application also met with stiff opposition from residents, civic and environmental groups.

After a packed public hearing in October 2014 was adjourned twice, United Riverhead Terminal notified the town was withdrawing the controversial application.

The company has DEC permits to store gasoline in three storage tanks on the site, URT attorney Nelson Happy said. It is not now seeking to convert any of its tanks to gasoline storage. It would not need the town’s permission to do so, he said, but would need permission to build tanks for ethanol storage.

Happy said the company would covenant that the six new tanks it seeks to build now would never be used for any product besides biofuel.

But residents expressed the fear that an approval for the new tanks would lead to the company seeking additional expansions.

“John Catsimatidis and his advocates have zero respect for our town, for the safety of our roads or for our elected officials,” Northville Beach resident Tom Hughes said of the NYC billionaire owner of United Refining, which owns United Riverhead Terminal.

“We do not trust him,” Hughes told the town board. “Our trust is in you.”

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith closed the hearing but kept the record open for written comment until June 29.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.