United Refining chairman and CEO John Catsimatidis at a Riverhead Town Board meeting in 2015 (File photo: Katie Blasl) and United Riverhead Terminal's facilities in Northville.(File photos: Peter Blasl)

Facing strong community opposition and a split town board, United Riverhead Terminal has withdrawn its special permit application to install six biofuel storage tanks at its Northville facility.

A letter notifying the town of the company’s decision was filed with the Riverhead Town Clerk yesterday.

John Catsimatidis, chairman and CEO of parent company United Refining, expressed frustration in a phone interview today.

Catsimatidis faulted Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith for the company’s decision to withdraw its application, which he said could cost jobs at the Riverhead facility.

“Her actions and her delays and her demands — every time it comes to a settlement, there is a new demand,” Catsimatidis said. “The number of obstacles that we have had put in front of us in the last eight or nine months is unbelievable.”

Catsimatidis said the supervisor has made Riverhead “the most anti-business town in all of Suffolk County.” United Riverhead Terminal is the second-largest taxpayer in the Town of Riverhead, he noted.

Jens-Smith denied the charge.

“I am not anti-business at all,” she said.

“It’s ironic. I have worked very hard to help create a clear path for them to be able to put those tanks in so they could meet their state mandate,” Jens-Smith said. “I have no problem with them putting those tanks there, never did.” She said URT agreed to everything the town and the community asked.

URT, owner and operator of the petroleum storage facilities and offshore platform in Northville since 2012, said it wanted to add the biofuel storage tanks there 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, 2018.

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

The tanks would have stored 108,000 gallons of biofuel and would have allowed the company to custom-blend biofuel with its home heating oil and diesel fuel products stored and distributed at the facility.

Currently, URT is complying with state law by bringing in already-blended 5-percent biofuel by barge. It is more costly and does not allow the company to meet the needs of customers who want other blends. That arrangement “is costing us substantially more than doing it ourselves,” Catsimatidis said.

URT’s application drew stiff opposition from residents opposed to an expansion of the pre-existing, nonconforming use at the 286-acre waterfront site.

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.

Earlier this year, Councilman Tim Hubbard brought forward a resolution to approve URT’s application — a move he made over the supervisor’s objection but with the support of council members James Wooten and Jodi Giglio. But after blowback from the community, Hubbard on Feb. 20 moved to table the resolution.

Town board members said today they were surprised by URT’s decision to withdraw its application.

Hubbard said he was “shocked” by their decision. he had expected the resolution would be brought up for a vote at the board’s next meeting April 16 and it would have the support of at least the three Republicans on the board — enough to adopt it.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio agreed. “I thought we were going forward,” she said.

Jens-Smith, though she said she supports the installation of the biofuel tanks, stopped short of saying she was prepared to approve the special permit, because of the as-yet unresolved issue of improving the intersection of Sound Avenue and Penny’s Lane. That was something URT offered to mitigate traffic concerns raised by residents, she said.

Oil trucks and other large vehicles have difficulty navigating the narrow intersection without entering an oncoming lane of traffic. URT offered to pay for intersection improvements, but the necessary improvements would require the purchase of private property. The property owner was not willing to sell.

“The resolution offered for a vote said the town would enter into eminent domain to take the private property,” Jens-Smith said. “But that did not have support of a majority of the board.”

However, the supervisor said she believed the town was still working with URT on that issue and had “no idea why they decided to withdraw their application.”

Hubbard said URT’s application “was hung up because it was missing a comma, or hung up because a period was in the wrong place,” and he blamed the supervisor for delays.

“It was hung up for reasons it shouldn’t have been hung up for,” he said. “If she wanted this to go through it would have been passed a while ago,” Hubbard said.

Northville Beach Civic Association president Linda Prizer said the organization’s members are “very happy” about URT’s decision.

“We don’t want any expansion there,” Prizer said. “Our position is once they get a foot in the door, they’ll push the door wide open.” Residents are worried that URT will again seek to resume gasoline storage and distribution at the facility.

“That would be very dangerous and the civic association opposes it,” she said.

Prizer said the community remains skeptical of URT’s intentions after its 2014 application to build two 19,000-gallon tanks to store ethanol at the site. URT said it intended to use the ethanol to blend with gasoline it planned to begin storing and distributing from the site. That proposal met with massive community opposition and URT withdrew that application as well.

The last time gasoline was stored in tanks at the Northville facility was in the mid-2000s, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

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