Triple Five executive Justin Ghermezian, left, with attorneys Chris Kent and Peter Curry, partners in the Farrell Fritz law firm at the Aug. 7 Riverhead Industrial Development Agency meeting. Photo: Alek Lewis

Recent developments in this tangled web we call EPCAL have a lot of residents puzzled — scratching their heads and trying to figure out just what is going on here.

After a detailed presentation of plans at a Riverhead Industrial Development Agency meeting last September produced an outcry from residents alarmed by talk of an air cargo hub at the Calverton Enterprise Park, the developer almost immediately started to backpedal.

The developer’s work to distance itself from the substance of that presentation is summed up here, with links to the original reports.

We believe, in short, that CAT has been conducting a gaslighting campaign since its Sept. 21 IDA presentation bombed with the public.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines gaslighting as “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem…”

CAT representatives at first claimed their presentation was misrepresented — implying that it was being mischaracterized by opponents of the deal who have “an agenda.”

Or maybe the public just overreacted?

There’s been a lot of word-smithing by CAT representatives, especially its attorneys, using carefully chosen words that seem designed to leave enough wiggle room big enough to maneuver a large jet through.

We’ve heard Republican supervisor candidate Council Member Tim Hubbard say he had not seen CAT’s plans prior to last September’s presentation to the IDA. Yet he and the rest of the board voted unanimously to become co-applicants with CAT for IDA tax benefits.

More recently, Hubbard said he is opposed to air cargo at EPCAL. “I will never let that happen,” he said.

Hubbard’s declaration, made in a guest column published by RiverheadLOCAL, was closely followed by a response from CAT CEO Justin Ghermezian that said: “CAT will continue to work with the town to create a plan for a project that is consistent with the town’s vision for EPCAL and in compliance with the adopted studies and regulations that govern its use.”

Notable word-smithing there too. RiverheadLOCAL asked Ghermezian a few questions in response to his guest column submission, which was published here in its entirety.

  • Will Triple Five’s plans include logistics and distribution buildings that will be leased to tenants which which receive cargo via the runways, as detailed in the plans presented at the Sept. 21, 2022 IDA meeting? If so, will this be scaled back at all?
  • Will Triple Five be amending its IDA joint application for benefits to reflect revised plans? If so, has any such amended plan been submitted or do you have a date by which you intend to submit them?
  • Will Triple Five publicly present the revised plans to the Town Board prior to the IDA hearing?

Ghermezian responded, thanking RiverheadLOCAL for publishing his guest column in its entirety and said, “Allow me to consider the questions you pose with the understanding that my response may not be able to make this week’s deadline for your paper.”

That was over a month ago. As of today: crickets.

Last week, Ghermezian spoke at a public information session hosted by the Riverhead IDA.

CAT’s new take on the public’s “confusion” following last year’s IDA presentation?

According to Justin Ghermezian, the air cargo use “was referenced by a professional consultant as a hypothetical concept of full buildout. We should have immediately flagged it for what it was, and more importantly, what it is not. Those concepts are not included in any plan we are placing before the IDA or the Town Board.”

Seriously? The air cargo thing was some sort of misstatement by a consultant that should have been “immediately flagged for what it was?”

In an interview following last week’s information session, CAT attorney Chris Kent took it a bit further.

“Sometimes when working with consultants, engineers, architects, they prepare something and that’s what gets stuck in their head,” he said. “And I was very angry that day, because we had not — that was not what we had decided we were going forward with.” Kent and another attorney were in the room during the presentation. Asked why he did not correct the consultant at the September 2022 meeting, he said he didn’t want to disrupt the presentation.

If this is making your head explode, join the club.

But relax. You’re not crazy. And you haven’t entered the Twilight Zone — though you may feel that way. That’s what gaslighting is all about. What you are being told is patently, demonstrably false.

Let’s look at the facts of how this went down so we can all rest secure in our perception of reality.

CAT’s proposed use of the site for freight deliveries by cargo jets — the air cargo hub presented by the company on Sept. 21 last year is no more a figment of your imagination than it is a misstatement by a consultant who got something stuck in his head and went rogue during what certainly appeared to be a very coordinated, scripted presentation.

Watch video of CAT’s presentation, recorded by the Town of Riverhead.

The written application to the IDA, signed by Riverhead Community Development Director Dawn Thomas, with the authorization of the unanimous vote of the Town Board, spells it all out for phase one: “600,000 square feet of logistics, warehouse, distribution” — two 50-foot-tall logistics buildings, each 300,000 square feet — along the 10,000-foot active runway. As well as two smaller building, totaling 400,000 square feet, set back from the runways for “industrial, commercial, environmental, energy and academic uses…” with up to 9 million square feet in future phases.

CAT intends to lease the buildings it plans to construct, the application says.

Read the application document.

CAT submitted an economic analysis report with its application. The report, dated August 2022, was prepared by James Lima Planning + Development. Read Lima report.

As CAT attorney Peter Curry (like Chris Kent, a partner in the Farrell Fritz law firm) stated in his cover letter to the Riverhead IDA, which accompanied the application for tax exemptions:

“The analysis discusses several positive trends in the aeronautics field that will benefit EPCAL. First, the need for air freight is predicted to grow annually. Second, with aircraft fleet sizes recovering from the effects of COVID-19, the demand for aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul will increase significantly. Third, the industry is pushing into the manufacture of vehicles that can reach low-Earth orbit, and this and increasing interest in sustainable practices of manufacturing is causing a surge in research and development. Finally, defense spending remains robust, including on aeronautics.”

Curry notes his client will invest at least $1 million to repair and upgrade the eastern runway — which the contract of sale with the town mandates — “so that it can accommodate cargo planes and other manned aircraft…”

During the presentation itself, both an engineer and an architect for the applicant spoke in very positive terms about the potential for air cargo at the site, which would be the only air cargo facility downstate besides JFK.

CAT’s architect displayed renderings at the September 2022 IDA meeting that very clearly depicted those logistics buildings, with jets parked on the aprons accessed by relocated taxiways — and tractor-trailer access on the opposite side of the buildings. Proposed development plans prepared by CAT’s architect depict the location of the buildings comprising phases 1A, 1B and 2. Other than phase 1A’s three “flex” buildings comprising 400,000 square feet, which are set back from the runway, the rest of the buildings depicted are all massive logistics/distribution buildings totaling more than 8 million square feet, lining the two runways, and massive parking structures providing 8,640 parking spaces. This does not include tractor-trailer surface parking, also depicted in the plans.

A “reference” by a consultant? A concept that just got stuck in a consultant’s head and was blurted out unexpectedly at CAT’s most important presentation in years — perhaps ever? Something that made attorney Kent “very angry” — though he didn’t see fit to correct the record?

Come on, fellas. Riverhead residents are not as stupid as you seem to think.

If CAT at this point came forward and said it has heard the community loud and clear and is revising its plans, we’d respect that. We might remain skeptical, but we’d respect that sentiment and wait and see what they produce.

Instead, they parse words, talk about how any use at the site will comply with zoning (newsflash: whoever CAT leases its buildings to can use the runways to land cargo planes without violating the zoning) and continue to deny that we saw and heard what we saw and heard last September.

If there was any “mistake” made at last September’s presentation, it’s that CAT actually showed us their plans.

If the Town Board really does want to stop an air cargo use at EPCAL, it should force CAT’s hand now, before this moves another step forward.

The Town Board should have its lawyers draw up an ironclad declaration of covenants and restrictions that would clearly prohibit the use — no gaping loopholes, no muddled language — which will be executed and will bind CAT and any future owner, tenant or successor-in-interest.

It should demand a contract amendment that will require CAT to execute covenants and restrictions before legal title or any leasehold interest in the land is conveyed to CAT or any entity that may succeed it, whether owned by Triple Five or anyone else.

It should make execution of the covenants and restrictions a mandatory requirement of any lease and project agreement between CAT and the Riverhead IDA, should the IDA approve CAT’s application for tax exemptions.

The town should release the declaration of covenants and restrictions to the public when it makes the demand on CAT and require CAT to respond publicly.

These steps will help ensure there are no more behind-the-scenes shenanigans, wheeling and dealing that work against the public interest. No more semantics. No more parsing of words. No more double talk. No more gas-lighting.

As we said in a previous editorial in which we laid out the facts of CAT’s presentation and their subsequent damage-control efforts: The people of Riverhead are not stupid. So don’t treat us that way. We get it. Do you?

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