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Riverhead Town is looking into whether the “Race Track, Not Street” drag racing event at the Calverton Enterprise Park should be allowed to use a popular traction compound used in competition racing events across the country. 

Drag racing promoter Peter Scalzo is pressing the town to allow him to use PJ1 Trackbite, a synthetic resin that provides controlled traction when sprayed on asphalt and concrete. The compound is recommended by the National Hot Rod Association, a governing body for drag racing events across the country which sanctions Scalzo’s events in Calverton. 

The compound makes the track safer for racers, and the event more attractive for them, Scalzo said in an interview Friday.

Use of the compound is prohibited by Scalzo’s runway use agreement with the town, and has been since the State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2021 recommended against using the product in order “to protect environmental and public health.” The town included a prohibition against the use of the compound in the Race Track Not Street runway use agreement in 2021. That ban was carried over last year and again in this year’s agreement, which was approved by the Town Board at last week’s meeting.

“We had a couple of wrecks last year, and there are a number of racers that did not come here, because we did not try to have the traction compound on the track,” Scalzo said. “So I lobbied this year, and I said I want to get the approval to use it.” Last year, Scalzo used Coca Cola syrup to make the track sticky, he said.

Scalzo said Friday the town had OK’d use of the compound this weekend, when Race Track Not Street began its summer series, though the agreement approved on Tuesday prohibited it.

But town officials on Friday said they had not cleared use of the compound and were still looking into the possible adverse environmental impacts of the compound. They said they would not amend the runway use agreement to allow its use until after the State Department of Environmental Conservation weighs in again.

The traction compound was not used this weekend, town officials said Monday. The police department and fire marshal were at the runways inspecting during the event, Police Chief David Hegermiller said.

PJ1 is not classified as environmentally hazardous, according to the manufacturer’s safety data sheet for the product. The primary ingredients of the compound are isopropanol and n-Hexane.

Concern about potential environmental risk associated with the product was raised in a 2021 letter to the State DEC by the EPCAL Watch Coalition, which cited the “potential for significant contamination of the underlying aquifer…” The former Navy site, which was operated by Northrop Grumman, already has groundwater contamination across much of the site with some groundwater plumes migrating off-site.

MORE COVERAGE: Civic coalition brings concerns about Calverton drag racing events to State DEC

The Town Board’s apparent behind-the-scenes debate over the compound, leading up to last week’s board meeting, continued in public at the meeting, when the resolution to approve a runway use agreement with Scalzo came up for a vote. The agreement prohibits use of the compound, as the 2021 and 2022 agreements did. 

During the public comment period, Scalzo asked the board to amend the agreement to allow use of PJ1 Trackbite.

Council Member Tim Hubbard said he was not against allowing the compound, but wanted to make sure PJ1 was environmentally friendly before the board voted to allow it. “I got a manufacturer’s data list on it today. And I’m not a chemist…I’m looking for somebody just to tell me, somebody in authority, somebody that knows, is this product that’s going to be used environmentally friendly?”

Scalzo said all states allow the use of PJ1, including California, which is particularly strict with environmental regulations. “I can’t imagine that they would use a product, be allowed to use a product that was not environmentally safe, but I hear what you’re saying,” he said.

“I can’t imagine that either, but nothing surprises me today,” Hubbard said. “And that’s a very environmentally sensitive piece of land, so I just want to make sure we’re doing it proper.”

Before the vote, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, brought up Scalzo’s request to use the traction compound. She said board members were going “back and forth” in emails about whether to allow Scalzo to use the compound. Aguiar, who has favored allowing its use and in 2021, pushed back against the DEC, arguing at the time that the compound was “environmentally healthy,” asked the board to amend the agreement Tuesday.

“I have worked with these MSDS data sheets from secure locations. And I did read it and as far as I can see, it is acceptable,” Aguiar said. “If I was doing a security survey, I would obviously use that sheet to determine if it belongs in a location [or if] it doesn’t. I’m not an expert on them, but material that’s discussed is pretty, you know — it’s readable for a layperson,” Aguiar said. “And so I just want to make that statement. It seems satisfactory to us and so let’s take the vote.” 

Hubbard took offense at the supervisor’s statement. “Well that’s a direct shot, supervisor. Apparently you’re implying I’m not able to read and determine what the data sheet said,” Hubbard said.

“No,“ Aguiar said, “I didn’t mean it…”

“And I beg you to read that and explain that to the people in this audience right now, and explain those chemicals that are on that,” Hubbard interrupted, ”And you tell me what they do or don’t do to the environment.”

“Okay, I’m sorry that it was taken that way,” Aguiar said. “I just wanted to share that…”

“It was meant that way, supervisor, and you said it that way,” Hubbard countered.

“It really wasn’t. And if it was, I apologize. How’s that, OK?,” Aguiar said. “It’s not something that — this is a fun event and it shouldn’t be any animosity between anyone. And so I made the statement. I looked at them. And so we’ll take the vote.”

When it came time to vote, Aguiar, who had not made a motion to amend the contract to allow the compound, said she was voting to approve the contract “with the compound.”

Hubbard pointed out the agreement did not include the use of the compound.

Town Attorney Erik Howard told board members he would look into amending the agreement to require Scalzo remediate any effects of the compound, and that he would draft an amendment for the board to consider.  

“I think we’re all in support, provided that the evidence shows that it does no harm to the environment — that it is environmentally sound and safe,” Rothwell said. “I think that’s all that we’re looking for.”

Hubbard said in an interview Friday that he has contacted board members to remind them that the DEC advised against the compound in 2021. He said there is not much information on the internet about the environmental impacts of PJ1, but that the compound does not seem environmentally friendly. 

A DEC spokesperson said in an email Friday that the “DEC will assess the potential use of this product with the town and take appropriate action as needed.” The agency did not answer specific questions about the product.

Deputy Town Attorney Annemarie Prudenti said Monday the two DEC officials the town contacted for an opinion on the compound are on vacation and won’t be back until next week.

Four Town Board members said in interviews they wanted to hear from the DEC before they made a decision on whether to allow Scalzo to use PJ1. Aguiar, Hubbard and Council Member Ken Rothwell said they would follow the DEC’s recommendation. Council Member Bob Kern said he would take the DEC’s comments into consideration, but reserved decision on whether he would follow the DEC’s recommendation. Council Member Frank Beyrodt did not return phone calls seeking comment. 

“I think something should be used,” Hubbard said, referring to a traction compound, “but at the same time I can’t condone something that’s going to harm the environment.”

In an interview Monday, Aguiar said she continues to support the use of the traction compound. Aguiar said she believes the DEC was “not aware of the chemical breakdown” of PJ1 when it made its recommendation in 2021, and she will support its use if the DEC says it is environmentally safe.

Approximately 20 gallons of product would be sprayed as a mist on the track per event, Scalzo said in an interview Friday morning. It will not be stored on site, Scalzo said.

Kelly McClinchy, a member of the Navy’s Restoration Advisory Board for Calverton, which is tasked with advising on the ongoing environmental remediation of the site, said the property is a very environmentally sensitive area that the town government, its residents and the business people at EPCAL have a duty to help protect.

“It clearly says you don’t want to ingest it. You don’t want to get it on your skin,” McClinchy said of the ingredients of PJ1. “So, I mean, don’t we have common sense here that says, hey, if you don’t want this in your body or on your body, maybe we don’t want to dump it on the ground?”

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com