The site of the proposed propane storage facility on Kroemer Avenue, adjacent to an existing propane storage facility on W. Main. Street. Image: Google Earth

Riverhead Fire Commissioners have sounded an alarm about a proposed 270,000-gallon propane storage and distribution facility on Kroemer Avenue.

The facility is proposed for a site adjoining an existing Paraco Gas propane site on Kroemer Avenue just north of West Main Street.

“That’s a lot of propane in one area,” Riverhead Fire Commissioner Mark Conklin said in an interview.

The attorney for the Riverhead Fire District Board of Commissioners wrote to the supervisor and town board last month asking the board to consider hiring an outside expert to review plans for “projects of this magnitude.”

The fire commissioners had not seen the plans for this project before the town board on Sept. 15 approved a special permit for the use, Conklin said.

According to the fire district’s attorney, Jonathan Brown, the fire district commissioners “often find out about pending applications so late in the process that their input is not meaningful.”

The fire district reviews building plans for fire safety issues, like the town fire marshal’s office, but with a special emphasis on safety issues that impact volunteer firefighters, including their ability to safely respond to calls.

The application dates back to early 2018, but has been revised and scaled back since then. Among the changes were the amount of development on the four-acre site and the deferral of a plan to reactivate an old rail spur on the property, to allow for the delivery of propane by rail.

The Riverhead Town Board assumed lead agency status for purposes of review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act and classified the proposal as a Type I. In February, the board issued a negative declaration for the project — meaning the board determined the proposal would not have significant environmental impacts and would not be subject to an environmental impact statement.

The board scheduled a public hearing for March, but that was canceled due to the coronavirus emergency. The public hearing was finally held in August and on Sept. 15, the town board voted unanimously to grant a special permit to the applicant.

The applicant, 48 Kroemer LLC, a Southampton-based company owned by Frank Fisher of Flanders, must now obtain site plan approval from the Riverhead Planning Board. The site plan was presented to the planning board for the first time on Oct. 1 and the applicant’s architect, Martin Sendlewski, pressed the board to schedule a public hearing, but the board declined.

Planning and building administrator Jefferson Murphree had a resolution prepared to schedule the public hearing but told the planning board members the site plan required some revisions before the hearing. He said one main concern was traffic circulation on the site.

“What were the fire marshal’s comments?” planning board member George Nunnaro asked. “On a facility this size with one right next door? That’s a lot of propane. That’s a lot of propane between those two places right in that small area.”

Murphree’s staff report dated Sept. 29 references comments from the fire marshal made by memo dated Jan. 16, 2019, which says the applicant must submit documents to demonstrate compliance with the relevant portions of the International Fire Code, the National Fire Protection Association liquefied petroleum gas code regarding storage of product, location of tanks, fire protection and all other safety features.

But Chief Fire Marshal Craig Zitek says neither he nor Fire Marshal David Andruszkiewicz wrote that memo.

“It is a document that appears to have come from the fire marshal’s office,” Zitek said in an interview. “But I didn’t make them. David didn’t. I’m not sure where they came from.”

The memo states it is written by “Chief Fire Marshal David Andruszkiewicz.” But Andruszkiewicz is not and has never been the chief fire marshal. That is Zitek’s title.

“I’m looking at who made them on our behalf. I’m in the process of reviewing it,” Zitek said.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar told RiverheadLOCAL she has asked the town attorney to investigate the origin of the memo purportedly written by Andruskiewicz.

“That’s very serious,” Aguiar said. “He has to make sure he reviews this very thoroughly,” she said.

The supervisor said she did not know the fire marshal review was not completed before the town board voted on the special permit.

“I’m very concerned with the amount of propane at the location and how close it is to woodlands,” Aguiar said.

“The planning board should review this thoroughly,” she said. It is up to the planning board whether they want to engage an outside expert to review the plans as the fire commissioners suggest, Aguiar said.

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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.