There was an unusually high turnout for the Navy's semiannual meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board on Jan. 29 , 2020 n Manorville. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The Navy has “no intentions of dissolving” the Calverton Restoration Advisory Board, a Navy spokesman has told RiverheadLOCAL, responding to criticism by RAB members of the department’s public outreach efforts.

A Navy spokesperson said, to the contrary, the department is looking to beef up RAB membership.

The Navy is conducting a “member drive…to increase RAB members in an effort to amplify the flow of information to the community so that concerns and issues can be addressed more quickly and efficiently,” said David Todd of the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command’s Mid-Atlantic Public Affairs office.

The Calverton Restoration Advisory Board was established in 1997 to facilitate communication between the community and the Navy regarding the cleanup and restoration of the 2,900-acre site owned by the Navy until 1998 and leased to Northrop Grumman (formerly Grumman Aerospace) from the 1950s until 1994. The Navy contractor manufactured and tested military aircraft and equipment at the site, where it also conducted firefighting training activities.

Community membership on the Calverton RAB has fluctuated over time. It initially had 14 members, but its membership has dwindled to five people.

The current co-chairperson of the board, Vincent Racaniello of Calverton, said last week he’s been asking the Navy to do more community outreach to boost membership on the RAB.

“I have repeatedly requested that the Navy bring up the membership on the RAB and they never said anything,” Racaniello said. So he brought it up himself “a few meetings ago”, Racaniello said.

Membership wasn’t discussed again until the most recent RAB meeting on April 29, which, like the previous meeting in November 2020, was held virtually due to the pandemic.

The last in-person RAB meeting at the Manorville Fire Department was held on Jan. 29, 2020. There have been two virtual meetings since then, but the Navy plans to return to in-person meetings as soon as possible after COVID restrictions allow.
File photo: Denise Civiletti

The last in-person RAB meeting, held in January 2020 at the Manorville Fire Department, packed the headquarters’ meeting room with residents demanding expanded testing to measure the size and direction of a groundwater plume originating on the former Grumman site and demanding that the Navy test private residential wells in the neighborhoods south of the site.

“I think if they had a signup when we have in-person meetings, we would greatly enhance the membership,” Racaniello said. “As you can tell, there is a lot of interest in the cleanup at this site.”

Residents interested in becoming a RAB member can download an application here.

Members of the advisory board recently voiced sharp criticism of the way the Navy is going about soliciting members for the board — and soliciting community input on environmental concerns related to previous Navy-contracted operations at the site. of the former Naval weapons reserve plant operated by Northrop Grumman until 1994.

RAB members spoke out after a Navy survey about environmental concerns appeared on the Town of Riverhead’s website earlier this month, questioning both the Navy’s methods and motives. They pointed to a presentation by Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center representative Jennifer Zingalie at the April RAB meeting.

Zingalie said during the meeting if there is no longer “sufficient, sustained community interest,” the Navy could dissolve the Calverton Restoration Advisory Board. A restoration advisory board needs to have “at least 10 to 20 members,” Zingalie said.

A slide from the presentation about the RAB made by a Navy representative at the April 29, 2021 virtual RAB meeting.

Then in June, the survey appeared on the town’s website with no public announcement by the Navy other than a statement accompanying the survey which said the survey would be used to update the Navy’s community involvement plan for the site.

RAB members voiced worries that a lack of residents volunteering for the RAB and a lack of response to the survey would be used to justify dissolving the group, despite outreach and publicity efforts one member described as “anemic” and a “farce.”

The Navy has recently been under increased pressure from the community and elected officials to expand groundwater testing and take responsibility for pollution of private wells in the area south of the former manufacturing plant.

The Navy has denied responsibility for off-site groundwater pollution, though it has acknowledged on-site groundwater and soil contamination by a variety of substances, including Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFOS and PFOA) and volatile organic compounds. Site investigations for those substances and others, such as 1,4 Dioxane, are ongoing.

The RAB meetings are the only public forum for discussion with Navy representatives and the department’s contractors handling the cleanup and restoration.

RAB member Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, called the Navy’s community outreach effort “a farce designed to achieve an outcome it desires, which is to get out of town as quickly as possible.”

Not so, said Todd this week.

“The Navy remains committed to its per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) cleanup responsibilities at NWIRP Calverton and will continue to let the data and science dictate the scope of remediation efforts,” Todd said.

“With things returning to normal across the country, our goal is to get back to having in-person meetings twice a year, as established before the COVID-19 pandemic – regardless of the number of current or future RAB members – until such time that the Navy deems site restoration is finalized and no further testing or action is required,” Todd said.

A link to the Navy’s community survey will be included in the minutes of the April 29 meeting, Todd said. “The April 2021 RAB meeting minutes are scheduled to be posted to our public facing website the first week of July,” he said.

“The survey helps the Navy identify community needs, concerns and expectations related to the cleanup process for NWIRP Calverton,” Todd said. It will be used in the development of a community involvement plan for the site, he said. A community involvement plan is “a site-specific strategy to enable meaningful community involvement throughout the environmental cleanup process,” Todd said.

To respond to the survey, residents must download it and either email, fax or mail it to the Navy — a process Esposito criticized as a barrier to a robust community response. The survey should be answerable online, she said.

But Todd said the Navy could not conduct an online survey thought its public website.

“Department of the Navy-generated (internet-based) surveys cannot be accessible to the general public due to specific filtration requirements, such as unique login/password protection, to safeguard participant information,” Todd said, citing an April 2008 instruction from the chief of Naval operations pertaining to “Coordination and Control of Personnel Surveys.”

“If the Navy wanted to do meaningful community outreach, they could do it,” Esposito said. “It’s not difficult. It’s not rocket science. It’s done all across America, by small and large businesses, and community groups. But they choose not to do that intentionally,” she said. “I’m hard pressed to believe that the Navy doesn’t know they can hire a consultant to do community outreach.”

Support local journalism.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.

SHARE
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.