News-Review: Riverhead supe asks for meeting with feds over EPCAL

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | The section of rails hat ends at Metro Terminals of Long Island.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter sent a letter to the state’s two U.S. senators, as well as Congressman Tim Bishop, Friday in hopes of getting federal support for economic development efforts at the former Grumman property in Calverton — now called the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL.

And by 3 p.m., representatives for Mr. Bishop and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said the two camps were on board to meet with the supervisor.

Mr. Walter was also trying to personally track down Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was supposed to be in Suffolk Friday afternoon for a press event, but instead contacted lieutenant governor Bill Duffy — as Mr. Cuomo couldn’t make the trip.

Mr. Duffy said he would get back to the supervisor next week, Mr. Walter reported.

The supervisor wanted to hand deliver to Mr. Cuomo updated information on the EPCAL site and the Town Board’s vision for the property.

That vision, which includes subdividing some 800 acres and prepping the land for sale, has run into resistance from state Department of Environmental Conservation, Mr. Walter said in an interview Friday.

That, and the town was recently passed over for a key state grant that would have funded sewage treatment upgrades at EPCAL, which are needed before the town can sell land, he added.

“I get the sense in speaking to people [in state government] that some don’t believe this project is real,” Mr. Walter said, explaining that the skepticism comes in part from the town’s past failed efforts to develop the land, most notably an attempt at getting an indoor ski mountain built there.

“Over and over, I hear from state staff members, that we’re paying for the sins of the father,” he said, “by not doing what the DEC wants, and projects that just about everyone in New York State was laughing about when we were talking about Dubai-type ski mountains.”

The town-owned land, some 2,900 acres in all, was deeded to the town by the federal government in the mid-1990s with the provision that the property be used for economic development to replace the jobs lost when Grumman ceased operations.

“The federal statute requires this property be used as economic development,” Mr. Walter continued. “Roughly 50 percent of the federal property was given to the state DEC for preservation, and really that should be enough.

“So we’re moving forward. [State] Senator LaValle, he’s been a huge supporter and he’s trying, and Assembylman Dan Losquadro is energized about our EPCAL efforts. But really we need the governor to get energized about this. And I think the combination of his support and trying to get a meeting with our federal senators and congressman, I think we can get there.”

Staffers at Mr. Bishop’s office acknowledged Friday the congressman was in receipt of the letter, sent via e-mail, and that they were on board for a meeting with the town supervisor.

“The congressman received the invitation…” said Bishop spokesman Oliver Longwell. “Depending on scheduling, either he or I will attend the meeting, and we hope to lay the groundwork before then for a productive session that will clarify the issues affecting development at EPCAL and forge a path forward. Congressman Bishop is a supporter of EPCAL as a regional jobs hub.”

Mr. Longwell also noted that Mr. Bishop helped secure $4.8 million in stimulus funding in 2010 to extend a freight rail spur to the property.

Future plans for the rail spur have also run into problems with the DEC.

A spokesman for Ms. Gillibrand also said the senator or staffers would meet with Mr. Walter.

“I can confirm that we have received the email today, and our office plans to meet with local officials,” said the spokeswoman, Bethany Lesser.

Representatives for Mr. Schumer could not be immediately reached for comment.

The town’s current plan includes getting state law in place to create an EPCAL commission that would oversee and fast-track proposals for the site. The commission would be made up of town, state and county officials, as well as non-voting members.

No property has been sold at EPCAL for over 10 years.

As for the planned subdivision, for which the town is waiting on $500,000 worth of planning, marketing and environmental studies to wrap up, 58 percent of the town land would be preserved for open space and wildlife, and 800 acres would be developed.

Mr. Walter says the DEC would like the developed acreage to be more like 750.

“So we’re supposed to be close, but in reality, the DEC’s plan would only see about 560 acres developed because the plan is so disjointed and doesn’t involve building anything on or near the existing runways, not a single blade of grass,” he said.

DEC and town officials have fought for years, often loudly and publicly, over different views on development at EPCAL. The DEC has said it’s paramount to protect sensitive species such as the tiger salamander and the short-eared owl. The owls are known to forage in the grasses surrounding the runways.

A DEC spokesman did not respond Friday to an e-mail seeking comment.

Mr. Walter said the grasslands will eventually turn to forest anyway, thereby no longer being conducive feeding grounds for the owls.

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