Terminal expansion plans resurface; neighbors still on guard

06/19/2015 6:00 AM |
Community groups are fighting to keep the United Riverhead Terminal (above) from expanding to store gasoline and ethanol. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

Community groups are fighting to keep the United Riverhead Terminal (above) from expanding to store gasoline and ethanol. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

Seven weeks after he withdrew a controversial application to expand the United Riverhead Terminal in Northville, owner John Catsimatidis is now exploring legal options to revive his efforts — and residents are once again up in arms.

Mr. Catsimatidis began a push in September to convert two of the Sound Shore Road site’s 20 oil storage tanks to hold gasoline and to build two new 19,000-gallon tanks to store ethanol. However, some community members raised concerns that the expansion would lower property values, create substantial traffic buildup and pose an environmental and safety risk.

In the face of the local opposition and the town board’s reluctance to support the expansion plans, Mr. Catsimatidis, a New York City mayoral candidate in 2013, pulled the plans in late April.

Newsday broke word on Tuesday of the owner’s plans to revive the proposal.

Neil Krupnick, president of the Northville Beach Civic Association — the organization the led the charge against the expansion — said he was unsurprised to learn of the grocery and energy magnate’s latest efforts.


 


“He’s a man who’s used to getting what he wants,” Mr. Krupnick said. “He’s unhappy about the decision that was going to be made by the board to reject his decision on legal grounds, so now he’s trying to find a way around.”

Mr. Catsimatidis would not reveal specifically what his next steps would be — or even if he would be proposing the same exact plans — but said that he is “open” and exploring a variety of strategies.

“We want what’s fair for everybody,” he said in a Thursday interview. “That’s the way we’ve always handled it.”

Mr. Catsimatidis said complaints about the expansion are unsubstantiated and said he has made some concessions in the meantime, including limiting the speed of his trucks on Sound Shore Road to 20 miles per hour.

“What we’re trying to do is work with the community,” he said. “We are community-minded people. Safety is number one.”

However, opponents remain unconvinced.

Linda Cavallaro, a Queens resident who has owned a second home in Northville since 1990, said on Thursday morning that she was “not happy” to hear the news about the project’s likely revival, and believed the community’s concerns have largely gone ignored by the oil company.

Peter Meyer, another resident, shared similar thoughts on Thursday morning.

“[Mr. Catsimatidis] doesn’t seem very neighborly,” he said. “It’s a big worry for everyone here. Having more 18 wheelers on the road that probably can’t handle them is a safety issue.”

Sound Shore resident Clement Vicari said, “You’re going to have these monster trucks coming up Penny’s Road and Sound Shore Road, and it’s going to have a definite impact on the community and on the property values. Plus, the traffic will be unbelievable in the summer and fall.”

Mr. Vicari, who lives on Sound Shore Road about 1.5 miles from the URT, said that road congestion caused by new oil trucks would also damage the local economy: if the large trucks cause traffic jams while making slow, looping turns, peak-season tourists would be less motivated to frequent North Fork businesses and wineries.

Mr. Catsimatidis said in an interview that expanding the facility could reduce gas prices in Suffolk County by up to 20 cents per gallon. Mr. Vicari wasn’t buying it.

“That is nonsense,” Mr. Vicari said. “He’s doing this strictly for the profit.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said while he has not received any official notice, he is unsurprised to hear that the businessman is still trying to expand his facility.

Mr. Walter told Mr. Catsimatidis at the time that the proposal would have been rejected as it was. Thursday, Mr. Catsimatidis said he will communicate with town officials once he decides on a new strategy.

“When we come up with ideas, we’re willing to sit down with them,” he said.

Mr. Vicari, a retired chemical engineering patent attorney who worked for Union Carbide, submitted a report to the Riverhead Town Board in December on behalf of the civic association.

In his report, Mr. Vicari wrote that Mr. Catsimatidis does not have legal grounds to seek gasoline and ethanol expansions.

He explained that when Northville Industries constructed the facility in 1955, the area was mostly farmland with significantly different zoning regulations. Today, the URT has “non-conforming use” status, which means it can continue to operate in the same manner that was once approved despite subsequent updates to the zoning.

Town code dictates that a “non-conforming use” not permitted in the current code — such as the storage of gasoline — cannot be re-established when it has been discontinued for one year or more. Since gasoline has not been stored at the facility in 13 years, Mr. Vicari believes Mr. Catsimatidis has no legal ground for reviving the practice.

With Joseph Pinciaro

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