View of the 7,000-foot runway at the Calverton Enterprise Park. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The EPCAL Watch Coalition has asked the State Department of Environmental Conservation to investigate the drag racing proposals for the EPCAL runways and take steps to minimize environmental harm the group worries will result from the the events.

The Riverhead Town Board has already approved special event permits for 10 days of drag racing on the runways in August and September. The board has also approved separate runway use agreements with the two event promotors: Peter Scalzo of Sarasota, Florida, who plans drag racing events on four consecutive weekends this summer, beginning Aug. 21; and Andre Baxter, who plan two days of drag racing on Sept. 25 and 26.

“It is undeniable that multiple high profile… heavily promoted, drag racing events will result in significant increases in noise, traffic, habitat disruption, sanitary waste, and increase the potential for significant contamination of the underlying aquifer…” the coalition wrote in a June 10 letter to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

The potential groundwater contamination may come from “petrochemical fuels, automotive fluids, and the potential use of fire suppressing foams,” the coalition said. PJ1 Track Bite, which promoter Scalzo told the town board he intended to use on the runway to increase traction, is “especially worrisome,” EPCAL Watch said.

PJ1 Track Bite’s ingredients include the following solvents: isopropanal, n-hexane, ehanol, hexane, methylcyclopentane and toluene. The solvents are carriers for the “proprietary resin” in the product, which adheres to the track’s surface and enhances traction for racing cars. PJ1 is a concentrate that must be mixed with isopropyl alcohol or methanol in order to be applied to the track surface.

“These events will also attract thousands of people over the course of several days and months, to a site that is largely without appropriate infrastructure or engineered for any type of racing or public safety,” the coalition wrote.

There has been a “complete absence of a defined environmental management and mitigation strategy,” EPCAL Watch said, asking the DEC to take action. The town, “prior to granting approval for multiple racing events…(through an uncoordinated environmental review process) provided little if any evidence to support the detailed environmental review that such a proposal, in a designated Critical Environmental Area, should immediately warrant,” the coalition wrote.

“We already checked with the DEC and we got approval,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said in an interview yesterday, “as long as they stay on the runway and stay out of protected areas.”

The DEC is “aware of the [EPCAL Watch] letter and is continuing to work directly with the Town of Riverhead to ensure the protection of the habitats and the species that depend on this unique area,” the agency said in a statement.

“Through DEC’s actions working with the town, the town has agreed to move all of the racing events outside the grassland breeding bird window between April 1 and August 15, and is continuing to work with DEC experts on the siting of the security and fencing to ensure vehicles are prevented from driving on the grassland habitat in the area,” the agency said.

The DEC also said it “continues to work with the town to ensure any substances commonly used to enhance traction at such events are not used” in order “to protect environmental and public health.”

Scalzo, prior to the approval of his special permit and runway use agreement, offered not to use PJ1, which he had, acknowledged, at a previous meeting, raised environmental concerns. But neither the resolution approving his special event permit nor the runway use agreement approved by the board included any restrictions on or prohibition of PJ1.

“What they may use is environmentally healthy,” Aguiar said yesterday. “It’s used in California, which has the most strictest environmental regulations anywhere,” she said. “It’s not being used in a protected area. It’s solvent. It dissipates. The runway is 10 feet of concrete. It’s not in a protected area. As far a town is concerned, it was vetted. It was checked out,” Aguiar said.

In an interview yesterday, Scalzo stressed he will comply with whatever the DEC wants. “If the DEC says something is harmful, I will not use it,” he said. “It’s a fair question to ask why, though,” he said.

The PJ1 coating is “an added safety feature for racers,” Scalzo said. “I want to do everything I can to make the track as safe as possible. That’s what I’ve done my whole career,” he said.

Scalzo said the coating is “used all over the country,” including California, “where they are crazy” with environmental regulations.

The supervisor said Riverhead residents are looking forward to the events. “Everyone — the whole town is excited about this,” she said.

Aguiar said the town is working with Scalzo on the number of people that can attend each event. The special event permit allows up to 4,000 people — which Scalzo has advertised — while the runway use agreement limits attendance to 1,100 people.

Scalzo said yesterday he had agreed to limit spectators to 1,100 people, plus 200 racers, for a total of 1,300. He said the 1,100-person attendance limit — including racers — as the runway use agreement states “was a mistake.” He said there will be no ticket sales at the gate and that will ensure there will be no more spectators than the 1,100 allowed.

“There will be control and security,” Aguiar said.

The supervisor expressed confidence that the event will be a success. “The person who’s putting the event together — he’s never had one accident,” she said.

“I’m going to be in one of those cars,” Aguiar said.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor and attorney. Her work has been recognized with numerous journalism awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She was also honored in 2020 with a NY State Senate Woman of Distinction Award for her trailblazing work in local online news. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.