Riverhead Town to hire former congressman for EPCAL work

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Former congressman George Hochbrueckner addressing the Riverhead Town Board in October.
TIM GANNON PHOTO | George Hochbrueckner addressing the Riverhead Town Board in October.

The Riverhead Town Board is planning to hire former congressman George Hochbrueckner as a consultant to work on issues pertaining to town land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

Mr. Hochbrueckner, a Democrat, was the congressman representing the East End who authored the legislation that led to the federal government turning the former Grumman fighter pilot plant site in Calverton over to Riverhead Town back in the mid-1990s.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the board met in executive session Thursday morning to discuss the proposal, and afterward said there is consensus on the board to hire Mr. Hochbrueckner for $7,000 a month for up to six months.

“Every time we go to meetings on EPCAL, they would rewrite the history,” Mr. Walter said of state officials. “You can’t rewrite the history with the guy who wrote the history.”

He said Mr. Hochbrueckner knows people from his days in Congress and in the state Aassembly that town officials would not know.

The town has been arguing that the federal government gave EPCAL to the town for economic development, to replace the jobs that were lost when the Grumman Corporation left Calverton the mid-1990s.

But Mr. Walter says the town’s efforts to redevelop the site have been consistently thwarted, particularly at the state level, where the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has argued that grasslands there have become habitats for endangered birds, and that tiger salamander breeding ponds must be protected.

The site, east of the Brookhaven-Riverhead town line, was used for making and testing fighter jets for the more than 40 years when Grumman was there.

The DEC has maintained that it is not obstructing the town’s efforts to develop EPCAL.

“Because DEC has approved every permit ever requested of it to advance economic development activity at EPCAL, it’s tough to understand how anyone could assert that DEC has prevented economic development there,” said DEC spokesman Bill Fonda earlier this year.

Mr. Hochbrueckner, who was a state Assemblyman representing parts of Brookhaven before he became a Congressman, spoke to the Riverhead Town Board at an Oct. 25 work session where he said he supports the town’s efforts.

Mr. Hochbrueckner currently works as a lobbyist. He served in Congress from 1987 to 1995.

Mr. Hochbrueckner said that then-Senator John Glenn, who headed the Armed Services Committee at the time, wanted to simply sell off the Calverton land after Grumman left, but eventually agreed with Mr. Hochbrueckner’s proposal to give to Riverhead Town. Initially, it included a reverter clause stating that the federal government could take the land back if it wasn’t developed for economic development, but that clause was later removed.

“Jobs are very, very important,” Mr Hochbrueckner told the Town Board on Oct. 24. “And it is even more important today that the remaining property at EPCAL remain available for economic development to the maximum extent possible.”

“I made a commitment to my colleagues in the House and Senate that his property be used for economic development,” he continued. “That was the deal, and I’m  delighted to be supportive of what you are trying to do.”

Mr. Hochbrueckner said that in addition to the 2,900 acres inside the fence at the former Grumman site, there is an additional 3,000 acres of undeveloped land outside the fence that was used as a buffer when Grumman was there, and which has since become preserved as open space.

And the town’s zoning agrees to preserve about 1,000 of the 2,900 inside the fence.

So about 4,000 of the 6,000 acres at the former Grumman site already are being preserved, he said — the rest should be developed for economic development.

Mr. Hochbrueckner will be attending meetings on EPCAL in Albany and possibly in Washington representing the town, Mr. Walter said, adding that the former congressman is charging the town less than what he charges as a lobbyist.

The measure is expected to be formally approved at the Dec. 18 Town Board meeting.

In addition to Mr. Hochbrueckner, the supervisor has also reached out to the area’s three federal representatives for help in getting economic development at EPCAL.

State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), meanwhile, told the News-Review earlier this year that he doesn’t think the federal officials are needed to move EPCAL forward.

“I think they were on a good track, I think they have to be patient, and I think things will work out,” he said. “I think they will work things out with the DEC. We don’t need federal involvement.”

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