A Happauge-based robotics company is looking to use a portion of the town’s 7,000-foot runway at EPCAL for test flights of drones it is developing.
ULC Robotics was introduced to the town board in October as a potential tenant in the planned industrial park proposed by Calverton Aviation and Technology — the company in contract with the town to buy 1,644 acres of land, including both runways — at the Calverton Enterprise Park.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio introduced ULC representatives to the board at the start of the work session. She said she has been meeting with ULC to facilitate an agreement with the town for use of the runway.
“I have been meeting with ULC Robotics and figuring out what they need in order to come to the EPCAL property. And I guess this is the first step,” Giglio told the board on Thursday.
“We went out and looked at the runway. They picked a location on the runway that they would like to lease from the Town of Riverhead,” the councilwoman said. “So we’ve had emails back and forth with Bob and I’ve included the board and we’re here to discuss that today,” Giglio said.
Attorney Chris Kent, who represents Calverton Aviation & Technology, also represents ULC Robotics. He and ULC representatives met with the town board Thursday to pitch the idea.
The runway use agreement would be temporary, terminating when title transfers from the Riverhead Community Development Agency to Calverton Aviation and Technology, Kent said in a Feb. 13 letter to the town board.
ULC “provides robotic field inspection services to the utility and energy industries throughout the northeast United States and the United Kingdom,” Kent wrote.
The company is designing and developing an unmanned aerial system to support offshore wind projects, he wrote. They hope to manufacture the aircraft on Long Island, Kent said, though he did not say where on Long Island and did not mention Calverton Aviation & Technology.
ULC would test its fixed-wing, VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) unmanned aircraft on the town’s inactive runway, the company’s aerial services program manager Mike Passaretti told the town board at Thursday’s work session. The testing would require a 2,500-square-foot area.
The aircraft has a 10-foot wingspan and a weight of 36 pounds unloaded or 50 pounds loaded, Passaretti said. Powered by electricity and fuel, it takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter. It has a flight speed of 45 to 55 miles per hour. It would fly at an altitude of no more than 399 feet, per FAA airspace regulations, he said. The aircraft would stay over the runway and within the tree line, typically at an altitude of 300 feet, Passaretti said.
The test flights would be restricted to Monday through Friday during daylight hours and dependent on good weather conditions.
In the history of the company, there has never been a major accident or injury associated with drone flight testing Passaretti said. The two- to three-man drone crew would bring the drone and equipment to the runway in the morning and take everything with them when they leave. Nothing would be left on the runway, he said.
The aircrafts do not make a lot of noise, Passaretti said. From 300 feet away, the drone would sound like an air conditioner unit and from 400 to 500 feet away, the drone cannot be heard, Passaretti said.
ULC Robotics already conducts test flights at other locations on Long Island —Edgewood Oak Brush Plains Preserve in Deer Park, Smith Point County Park in Shirley — as well as on the runway of Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York. They plan to keep testing at the Edgewood Oak Brush Plains Preserve area, but the area is too small and accessible to the public, Passaretti said.
“That’s also why we want to be on the runways, because we’re so far away from everybody,” said Passaretti.
The company currently serves local businesses such as PSEG, National Grid, Con Edison and off-shore wind farm company Ørsted.
No proposed license fee was publicly discussed at the meeting.
The proposal was favorably received by the town board.
“We wish you lots of luck, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said. “Sounds exciting,” she said.
“As long as there are no infrared cameras on board for spotting tiger salamanders, I’m all for it,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said.
The town could sign a one-year runway agreement with the ULC without going through the process to determine ULC a “qualified and eligible sponsor,” town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz told the board.
State law requires a municipality to sell, lease or otherwise dispose of real property owned by the municipality for “highest marketable price or rental” through a public auction with sealed bids or through a request for proposals process. Under the state Urban Renewal Law, a municipality may enter into such a transaction without a sealed bid or RFP process if the municipality has adopted an urban renewal plan covering the property in question and the proposed purchaser or lessor has been determined a “qualified and eligible sponsor” and the proposed use is in keeping with the purposes of the municipality’s urban renewal plan.
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