Some reflections after another jolting dose of reality: Riverhead’s stewardship of the EPCAL site, its greatest asset, spins further out of control.
The maps, plans and other materials that the buyer of our EPCAL property has submitted to the State DEC, during conferences with them, recently made public by FOIL requests, stunned the very town officials charged with tracking what’s going on. (See story.) They only could share their hope that the buyer will drop in and “make a presentation” to explain these revelations. Is that in itself another example of how ineffective town hall has become in the EPCAL saga?
The buyer, whom we know as CAT, submitted these materials to the State DEC as “555 Calverton.” This in itself fits the mosaic of ambiguity where even their identity seems elusive. CAT, as buyer still in contract with the town, has conferenced with and submitted to the state a detailed set of plans and maps. One red flag is how these maps, and the proposed, massive construction they present, refer to compliance with FAA regs for runway and taxiway specs.
When they learned their voluminous submission had unexpectedly gone public, they quickly assured all who would listen that everything is strictly “preliminary,” nothing more than a “work in progress.” The buyer insists that these maps and plans will likely change, that it’s “too early” to be concerned.
Among other things, this “don’t worry about it” package of paperwork shows activation of both EPCAL runways in their entirety. Note that runways of this size are substantially longer and larger than MacArthur Airport in Islip, enabling their use by much larger jet aircraft than at MacArthur.
Along both of these runways, the maps the buyer included in these plans show rows of immense buildings totaling 10 million square feet. And to accommodate this configuration of runways and new buildings, various wetlands and sections of pine barrens at EPCAL would have to be “relocated.” Small wonder that those extra thousand “undevelopable” acres were mysteriously slipped into the sale as if in the dark of night, at the insistence of the here-today-gone-tomorrow Daniel Preston of Luminati fame.
Then there’s the lawyer for CAT, or Triple Five, or whatever name they use, who reacted to public release of these plans with resentment. Not long after that, the DEC clammed up, replying to further inquiries that it has nothing more to tell anyone. They say these materials are all they have, and everything they have has been provided. As NYSDEC ducks further questions, is it safe to assume that their initial release was a big mistake for them and for Triple Five? Did someone higher up in state government read them the riot act after this CAT got out of the bag?
And then there’s our town board, specifically the Republican majority, still dithering over what a newly hired attorney should do about the absurd contract of sale. They wrongly buy into the self-serving warnings of the buyer’s lawyer that the town must leave things alone, and keep quiet. After all, the rationale goes, Triple Five now wants to find partners now that Preston has jumped, or was thrown over, the side. Perish the thought that the town, and our elected representatives, should get a clear and complete understanding of this contract, which is the centerpiece document of the whole deal.
The Republican majority has at last become cautious, all about the wrong thing. The closing date for this confusing sale quickly draws near. There’s precious little time to challenge or correct the contract of sale, or to identify any contract violations that may well already have occurred. With time so short, we have the celebrated GOP three on our town board inexplicably quibbling about how far the attorneys should go in their contract review.
These three GOP board members are uneasy about the “scope” of the new attorneys’ review. How could that be so complicated? It’s a good bet that this delay continues till it’s too late. Will the board majority play out the clock on defining the town’s options until there’s only one option left — take the check from Triple Five (peanuts) and hand them the deed? Then the contract of sale, and the awkward position where the town has already found itself in this contract, becomes something we’ll just all have to live with.
A broader view of all this is not exactly comforting. A combination of factors come into play, leaving Riverhead, once again, holding the bag.
Is the EPCAL property destined to be a jetport of some kind? With the restored runways having much greater landing and takeoff capacity than MacArthur Airport in Islip, what kind of activity is in the offing for The EPCAL site, where there is even an existing control tower that Grumman used?
This is set against the background of such parallel issues as the county’s Gabreski Airport In Westhampton. According to our congressman’s office, Gabreski continues to grow actively as a military facility, leaving less and less room for civilian jet and helicopter traffic that has also long been expanding there.
Additionally, various federal agencies like the FAA, responsible for our nation’s air transportation, are teeming with bureaucrats who have long desired an additional passenger and cargo airport in the Northeast. Years of improvements at the existing, overwhelmed airports, such as at LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark, fail to solve the long-term, unsustainable burden at these facilities in their arduous struggle to meet the growing demand to move more and more passengers and especially cargo.
Here’s where it’s important to remember that Riverhead Town never brought this Triple Five crew of Iranian mega-mall moguls into the deal — they piggybacked into the sale courtesy of the now evaporated Preston.
One wonders if Preston, with his dog-and-pony shows, tying up the property for years, was all along merely a straw man.
If they stick to the concept of the site’s ideal economic use, we as a community might still benefit from the sale. But will there still unfold there the vaguely promised aviation manufacturing and the jobs that go with it? The sad, if not alarming, answer is that our Riverhead officials, at this late stage, continue to have no idea, and obviously that’s just how CAT wants it.
You would think Riverhead would have reserved the right in this contract to monitor closely all that occurs at the site, before and after the sale, with mandatory and detailed progress reports filed with the town until all their obligations are fulfilled. But no. Instead, our town officials tell us they hope to “learn more” from Triple Five, and are “inviting” them for another “presentation.”
Any substantial increase of jet and helicopter traffic at EPCAL will seriously impact the East End economy, its tourism, its hugely significant second-home industry, the Peconic Estuary, the resorts, our wine country ambiance and all else that has made this region still one of the last great places. With what Triple Five has shared with the state (and has so far avoided sharing with us), could these 1,644 acres transform into something we never wanted, expected or deserved?
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