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The hockey organization looking to site a NHL-sized covered ice rink in Riverhead will look to develop the rink in Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton — the site originally eyed by the group — instead of Stotzky Park, a location that drew opposition from town officials and residents.

Riverhead Councilman Ken Rothwell, Town Board liaison to the Recreation Advisory Committee, wrote to the committee yesterday afternoon to advise its members of the change.

Peconic Hockey Foundation President Troy Albert confirmed the change in plans this morning.

Committee co-chairpersons Marjorie Acevedo and Brian Mills released Rothwell’s email late last night, along with the following statement:

“The Riverhead Town Recreation Advisory Committee supports the prospect of an ice rink proposed by the Peconic Ice Hockey Foundation at EPCAL. We are very pleased to announce that we as a Town Recreation Advisory Board were able to preserve the use of fields 5 & 6 at Stotzky Park for all-purpose fields.”

The committee had objected to a plan to have the rink constructed in a field at the north end of Stotzky Park situated between the baseball fields and a fenced soccer field. Committee members disputed Riverhead Parks and Recreation Superintendent Ray Coyne’s recent statement to the Town Board that the field in question was “hardly used, if at all.”

See prior story: Riverhead to negotiate with hockey group to site domed NHL-size ice rink at Stotzky Park (June 15, 2022)

Community members also took issue with Coyne’s statement, citing its present use for soccer games and other activities, and voiced opposition to the proposed location in Stotzky. Others expressed concerns about traffic impacts and whether there would be enough parking to serve both the rink and other uses on the north end of the park.

See prior story: Plan to bring NHL-sized ice rink to Stotzky Park is put on ice (Aug. 11, 2022)

“The Peconic Ice Hockey foundation wants to be welcomed with open arms in Riverhead and it’s not looking to discourage anyone based on their location in town,” wrote Rothwell, the Town Board liaison to the committee and a proponent of developing a covered ice rink in Riverhead. “Being that said, the sentiment in Stotzky Park would limit the ability of residents to play soccer and so they have agreed to move their project to Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton,” he wrote.

The hockey group had been in discussions with town officials to site the indoor rink at the 90-acre Calverton park since at least 2020. But the largely undeveloped town park, carved out of the acreage deeded to Riverhead by the U.S. Navy in 1998, lacks the expensive infrastructure needed to support such a facility.

See prior story: Town park in Calverton can be a ‘mecca’ for sports tourism, superintendent says (March 3, 2021)

Rothwell said in his email Peconic Hockey is “asking the town to assist with the overall development of the area which we are currently doing, such as installation of bathrooms within Veterans Memorial Park,” Rothwell wrote, adding the town will seek “grants and community benefit money” for that purpose.

Peconic Hockey is not seeking “any ongoing continuous amount of money” from the town, Rothwell said in the email.

Peconic Hockey, in its negotiations with the town, had asked the town to pay 20% of the rink’s annual operating costs, which Rothwell said last week was an estimated $300,000 per year.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said last week she could not support any agreement that would have the town cover a portion of the operating costs of the rink.

The biggest portion of the overhead costs would be the electricity to refrigerate the ice, Rothwell said last week. In his email to the committee yesterday he said the town can “advocate to PSEG to attempt to get reduced electric rates.”

The Recreation Advisory Committee said it looks forward to hearing from town officials about the parkland alienation issue that arises whenever dedicated municipal parkland is sold, leased or licensed for use by a private entity. Generally, once municipal parkland has been dedicated, it requires an act of the State Legislature to use for any other purpose.

Rothwell said he believes the structure of the agreement being negotiated by the town attorney would address the parkland alienation issue.

Aguiar also said last week she had asked the New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation about the whether the proposed agreement with Peconic Hockey would constitute alienation of parkland.

She said in an interview today the town must investigate a number of issues in order for this project to move forward, including issues surrounding the alienation of park land. “There is still a lot to be negotiated,” Aguiar said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to add Supervisor Yvette Aguiar’s response to the change in plans for the rink’s location.

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