Development plans at the Calverton Enterprise Park continue to draw unprecedented crowds to community and civic meetings in Riverhead.
Last night more than 100 people — 92 in person and 20 via Zoom — attended a Greater Calverton Cvic Association meeting to hear a presentation by EPCAL Watch on plans being advanced by Triple Five Group for a cargo logistics hub development at the enterprise park.
EPCAL Watch is a coalition of organizations and individuals that came together several years ago to keep an eye on proposals for future development at the enterprise park — and on how the Town of Riverhead handles them.
The group has kicked its efforts into high gear over the past year as Triple Five’s development plans, pursued by its affiliate Calverton Aviation & Technology, advanced in the review process.
Triple Five’s development plan, presented by its architects and engineers at a public meeting in Riverhead Town Hall in September, call for the phased development of a total 10 million square feet in the enterprise park — 8.4 million of which will be logistics and distribution buildings. With the exception of a 400,000-square-foot rail depot, the logistics and distribution buildings will be situated along the sites’ two runways, which Triple Five will own after its $40 million EPCAL land deal closes.
The company’s consultants laid out their plans: CAT will activate the currently inactive 7,000-foot-runway and use both runways — the other one is 10,000-feet-long — to bring cargo in for yet-to-be named tenants who will lease the logistics and distribution buildings. CAT will upgrade the site’s GPS, add lighting and relocate the the two taxiways. New taxiways will run along the exterior lines of the runways and connect to aprons where planes will have their cargo unloaded.
When Triple Five unveiled its plans, residents grew alarmed and EPCAL Watch members dug in. Last night, EPCAL Watch presented their research to a packed civic association meeting at Riley Avenue Elementary School in Calverton.
Each of eight panelists covered different topics discussing potential impacts of the development and strategies for making sure the impacts are understood and throughly analyzed by the appropriate government entities. Impacts range from increased traffic on local roadways, to impacts on wildlife and habitat, to impacts to groundwater and soil at the site — which are already contaminated and undergoing a decades-long cleanup process by the U.S. Navy, the site’s previous owner — and the impacts of cargo jets arriving and departing.
Ed Reiter, a resident of Timber Park, a treed neighborhood of single-family homes located directly north of the enterprise park, discussed airplane approach patterns and the altitudes of jets at various distances from the runways. Reiter explained how planes descend from their cruising altitude of about 35,000 feet as they approach their destination airport.
“For every thousand feet of altitude they need to lose, it takes about three miles,” Reiter said. “So in essence, they’re going to start descending an airplane into our area about 110 miles out,” he said. Reiter noted that the New York metro area has a very crowded airspace. Air-traffic control will direct them around the city, where the airspace is most crowded.
Planes will descend to altitudes of around 1,600 feet after they enter the 20-mile range on approach, Reiter said. He talked about the factors that affect altitudes on approach, including weather and wind speed. As they come to the airport, at about seven miles out, he said, the planes will come down on a three-degree slope. About three miles away from the airport they’ll reach an altitude of about 200 feet, which is the decision height, meaning the pilot will have to decide whether to land or go around, Reiter said.
Andrew Leven, a former federal prosecutor and a new member of EPCAL Watch, told residents the promised benefits of the proposed development do not outweigh the costs to the community.
“CAT and the current administration are basically saying there are going to be a lot of jobs and the town is going to get the $40 million payment for the land,” Leven said.
The developer is seeking tens of millions of dollars in tax benefits from the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency but “has no site plan, they have no tenants, they have nothing except an aspiration and a vaguely worded promise,” Leven said.
“There’s no reason to believe that any of the construction materials that would be used to build these 10 million square feet of buildings is going to come from Riverhead. There’s no reason to believe that any of the people who are going to build it are going to come from Riverhead,” Leven said. “And then these high skill jobs CAT says the project will create — do we have a large cadre of high skill unemployed people in Riverhead, who are just waiting to get the CAT jobs? I would suggest that with this job market, where we have historically low unemployment rates, that high skill people probably have jobs,” he said.
“What’s the cost? The cost, it is the fair market value of our homes, and the quality of life in our community,” Leven said.
“The 10 million square feet of development, plus the jetport — which he said is equivalent to 13 1/2 Tanger Outlet malls — will generate between 35,000 and 65,000 new vehicle trips per day,” he said.
“If I have to plan my trips out of my house around thousands of trucks and cars every day, the value of my house decreases,” Leven said.
“If I’m faced with with pollution equivalent to moving an entire United States Army division by truck every day, through Riverhead, my house loses value. If my house is considered by the FAA to be not suited to be a home because of the noise of the jet cargo airport, my house loses value,” he said.
“Riverhead is not benefiting at all. The region may benefit or it may not. But if it does, it’s a zero-sum game. They win and we lose everything,” he said.
Kelly McClinchy of Manorville, a member of the Calverton Restoration Advisory Board established by the Navy as a liaison with the local community regarding the environmental cleanup at the site, spoke to the group about water contamination at the site.
When the site was occupied by the Grumman Corporation, McClinchy said, they did things during their testing, like dump fuel. “And we are now paying the price for the legacy that Grumman left behind,” she said.
“There is contamination all over this site,” McClinchy said. “There is contamination that the Navy won’t tell us about,” she said.
She displayed a map showing the most recent iteration of the “areas of concern” identified by the Navy, indicating locations of PFOS detection. “Some of those areas are over a hundred times over the state limit. Some are located where CAT is planning to build.” Construction will disturb soils and potentially release PFOS into the air. Drawing water in high capacities to serve the site, the groundwater can begin moving in ways the Navy doesn’t expect, McClinchy said.
When we bring this up, the Navy has assured us they will be in contact with Riverhead. But the Navy can’t make decisions without looking at CAT’s plans. “We have to continue to pay attention to this,” McClinchy said.
Patricia Aitken, a Greater Calverton Civic Association trustee and president of the New York State Ornithological Association, discussed environmental concerns at the site.
“The Calverton grasslands are the last large expanse of grasslands remaining in the downstate New York area,” Aitken said. “Grasslands once covered an extensive area of Long Island,” she said, but they have virtually disappeared. Outside of EPCAL there are only two small areas left on the island, she said.
“The proposed development would fragment and destroy the grasslands at EPCAL. Birdwatchers, nature photographers, botanists and others come to study and enjoy this rare ecosystem,” Aitken said. “The grasslands should be celebrated and protected as the unique and special place they are. They are an invaluable asset and resource — not just the residents of the Town of Riverhead, but statewide,” she said. “We have a duty and an obligation to be responsible stewards of this land.”
The town has no active management plan for the maintenance of the property, she said.
Birds and other species, including some listed as endangered, threatened or species of special concern in New York State, have been well-documented at the site, Aitken said.
Among them are tiger salamanders, which in New York occur only on Long Island. Aitken said an estimated 11% of the ponds supporting tiger salamander populations on Long Island that existed in 1980 remain as viable habitat today. As the EPCAL grasslands are converted to buildings and impervious surfaces, tiger salamanders will suffer, Aitken said.
Rare threatened and endangered plant species are also present at the site, she said.
Everything about the development will impact plant and animal life at EPCAL.
“Grassland birds and other species simply can’t go elsewhere. Their habitat is the grasslands. If the grasslands disappear so will they, and we will be left with considerably diminished biodiversity and a loss that cannot be measured in dollars,” Aitken said.
Kathy McGraw of Northville described the review process that led the town to sign on as joint applicant with Calverton Aviation & Technology for IDA tax exemptions.
“Their agreement says if the IDA denies tax benefits, the town can walk away from this contract,” said McGraw, a retired attorney. “So obviously we want them to deny tax breaks.”
She then described what would happen if the IDA approves the application. “The town deeds all 2200 acres to the IDA to give them the title. CAT at that moment pays the town $40 million, the price tag for this property,” McGraw said. “Then the IDA leases the 1,640 acres to CAT the 560 acres back to the town.”
When CAT gets the subdivision the IDA will transfer title to the town’s portion of the property back to the town. “And that may never happen because the town couldn’t get the subdivision. Who knows whether CAT will be able to get it. So what’s wrong with this?” she asked, prompting laughter from the audience.
McGraw described what she called “one massive incentive” for the IDA to approve the application — the money it will receive in fees from the applicant. “They rely on fees paid by developers for their existence, and they need this cat project to stay afloat,” McGraw said.
CAT’s plan is “totally speculative,” McGraw said. “There’s no site plan, no permits. There are no tenants.”
Barbara Blass, who served 19 years on the Riverhead Planning Board — six as its chairperson — and eight years on the Town Board, described the review process under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. She went over the process that took place before 2017, when the town decided to scrap a 50-lot subdivision plan it had been pursuing and to instead sell Luminati Aerospace 1,643 acres in three large lots instead.
“CAT’s attorney told the IDA that the applicant is finished with the environmental review on this project. The findings statement has been adopted and there’s no additional environmental work that has to be done. That’s really a pretty amazing statement to make,” Blass said.
But the proposal has changed substantially from the one that was studied in connection with the 50-lot subdivision, Blass said. And there’s no information about the site, like the newly discovered groundwater pollution, she said. “How do you say ‘Everything was done. We’re good to go.’ It’s impossible,” Blass said. “It’s a textbook case of circumstances warranting a supplemental EIS (Environmental Impact Statement),” she said.
The IDA was never consulted in the original GEIS, she said. “They weren’t even an involved agency. And in fact, the socio-economic section of that document talks about the full tax implications and the full taxes that all of the taxing districts will be receiving — all the town of the departments, the school district, the fire district — does it based on full taxes,” Blass said. “There was never a discussion, no mention. That’s an impact now that we are facing that was never assessed before,” she said.
“The bottom line is the SEQRA record is woefully inadequate, deficient, not even legally defensible,” Blass said. “The IDA and must not — cannot — rely on it to offer an inducement resolution,” Blass said.
“There’s no SEQRA police, ladies and gentlemen. It’s us,” Blass said. “Understand, EPCAL Watch is watching and we will continue to watch.”
Angela DeVito of South Jamesport told the crowd one important thing the group has to do is “build capacity and organize your community further.
That requires petitioning, letter-writing and showing up at town meetings, DeVito said. Overall, increase your presence, she said.
The group discussed the possibility of asking officials to call a referendum on the sale.
“There was a referendum in 2001 and the people said no to an airport in Calverton,” McGraw said. “I would argue that it’s still good,” she said. “But in the alternative, go to the Town Board and ask for a referendum. Ask the IDA to do a referendum. Tell them before this is approved, ask the people if they want it.”
McGraw told the group it must be prepared for litigation to make sure SEQRA is followed and any development at the site is properly reviewed.
Greater Calverton Civic Association President Toqui Terchun asked residents to reach out to their friends and family across the region and ask them to speak to their own town government officials about the impacts of the proposed development at EPCAL.
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