Rendering of CAT's phase 1A development by CAT's architect BLD Architecture, presented at the Sept. 21, 2022 Riverhead Industrial Development Agency meeting.

Riverhead has a fundamental problem that affects all of its residents: Those who are supposed to protect the public routinely don’t. With real consequences.

To see how that harms the many, one need look no further than how close our town is to badly damaging the value of most people’s biggest asset; their homes. We are at the precipice of having a jet cargo airport at EPCAL with the largest runway in the Northeast. Without being told what it will look like, how it will operate, or who will own it. And this is being done to us by our own government.

If this goes through, at least 50 existing homes could be rendered virtually uninhabitable. The market value of hundreds (and likely thousands) more will see their market value reduced. And virtually everyone living in Riverhead is at risk in various ways and to varying degrees of being negatively impacted.

For property owners, the possibilities are stark. While many factors affect noise levels, there are some commonly accepted ideas about planes. Going five miles out in any direction from EPCAL, homeowners can expect to endure jet cargo planes at 1,500 feet of altitude or less, at noise levels ranging from running a vacuum cleaner in the next room to living 50 feet away from the Long Island Expressway. This will be worse at night, because that is when noise is often heard even more clearly.

Some of the thousands of residents who live close to EPCAL (and under the most likely flightpaths) won’t mind. Others will mind a lot. But all of them will be damaged, because (as noted by the US Air Force) at noise levels lower than what we can reasonably expect from cargo jets at 1,500 feet, one out of five people are “highly annoyed” and for some, the noise will actually interfere with the ability to speak to each other. Meaning – among other things – that when a resident wants to sell their home the pool of potential buyers will likely be reduced by at least a fifth and, while they are trying to sell it, the owners may actually find it hard to talk to each other on their own property.

That could explain why the FAA says noise levels lower than those that will likely be experienced in thousands of local homes are “generally incompatible with residential land uses.” Otherwise stated, EPCAL could render many homes in Riverhead incompatible with being a home.

Faced with this quality-of-life cliff, one would expect our government to be actively and vigorously looking out for our interests. Yet the opposite seems to be happening.

Despite being possibly weeks, or even days, away from approval, the approving authorities will not tell us:

Whether EPCAL will or will not be a jet cargo airport. On that score, at some points in the process the answer has been “no.” Then “maybe.” Now, apparently, “yes.”

Who will own it?

What else will be built there? One million feet of additional warehousing? Or is 10 million? We have seen both figures.

What will this look like regarding traffic, site infrastructure (roads, wells, septic, toxic waste clean-up), and environmental issues (multiple endangered species live on the EPCAL site)?

Will the developer actually raise the money to actually build, or instead simply tie up our town’s use of the site for more years.

Despite all of this, the town has actually joined the developer’s application. To make matters worse, the town has manipulated the approval process to circumvent basic requirements that exist to protect us.

Land-use issues are complex, and those raised by EPCAL perhaps even more so. For that reason, let me plainly state that I do not here impugn the motives of any individual public official – elected or appointed – connected with the EPCAL approval process. This is not a criticism about individual people.

But at some point actions (and inactions) have consequences, and results matter. EPCAL is a symptom of a deeper malaise experienced by many communities. Including ours. Which is that we are at a point where we cannot trust our leaders to lead. At least, not behind closed doors. Where decisions like EPCAL that directly impact us are being made.

There is another way. A fusion slate of three registered Democrats and two Republicans has been put together by the Democratic Party for the November elections. I am one of the Republicans. I joined the ticket because it is not about being red or blue. It is about reclaiming Riverhead using common sense drawn from both sides, and not the ideology of one party or the other. With a simple goal: to protect those who live here by stopping.

EPCAL and stopping uncontrolled overdevelopment throughout the town — as well as addressing the wide range of other issues that will determine whether we will retain our unique strengths as a community.

Andrew Leven is a former career federal prosecutor. He lives in Riverhead.

Editor’s note: Leven is a candidate for Riverhead Town Board, running for a council seat on the Democratic line.

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