Plan would see trees cut for grass in Calverton

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | An aerial view of Calverton Enterprise Park, looking south.
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | An aerial view of Calverton Enterprise Park, looking south.

Trees or grass?

That’s a question Riverhead Town officials will have to wrestle with at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation “potentially wants us to take back some of the early succession forest at EPCAL to create grasslands,” Mr. Walter told the News-Review.

This could mean cutting down about 50 acres of full-grown evergreen trees on the eastern portion of EPCAL in order to create a new grasslands on a site just south of land where a garbage transfer station is proposed, and where a garbage-by-rail plan was proposed 10 years ago.

The town has already agreed to maintain existing grasslands at EPCAL in the areas adjacent to both runways, and preserve them as a habitat for migrating birds, including the endangered short-eared owl.

On the western runway, which is inactive, the town has agreed at the DEC’s request not only to preserve existing grasslands, but also to cover the runway with sand and plant grass over it to create additional grassland habitat.

The 7,000-foot western runway is no longer used for aviation. The 10,000-foot eastern runway is still used for aviation, but the town’s draft plan for subdividing EPCAL into 50 lots would see that runway shortened.

Mr. Walter said not everyone supports the idea of cutting down trees for grass. State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) prefers keeping the trees, the supervisor said, as does Andrew Sabin of East Hampton, whom the town is allowing to conduct a salamander study at EPCAL.

“I’m not in favor of it, either,” Mr. Walter said.

“Early succession” forest is a scientific term used to describe land that is in a transition period between grassland and forest.

“If we did nothing on the existing grasslands, we’d have woods there in 20 years,” Mr. Walter said. “But if we do the subdivision, we’re going to have to maintain the grasslands that are there.”

He said the town’s development plan for EPCAL would end up preserving about 600 of the approximately 650 acres of grasslands at EPCAL.

The area where trees would potentially be cut down is just south of the Calverton Industries property, where a group called East End Recycling and Composting has a pending site plan application before the town to build a 315,000-square-foot garbage transfer station and indoor composting facility. East End Recycling has a valid DEC solid waste permit for the site that dates back to the late 1990s, and would rent 10 acres there to build the proposed facility.

At a town work session in 2003, Calverton Industries’ principal Michael Cholowsky had proposed extending the EPCAL rail spur through the EPCAL property so garbage collected on his property could be taken out by rail. No formal application was ever made and the spur wasn’t even operating at the time.

John Cameron of East End Recycling told the News-Review last year that his company has no plans to use freight to take garbage to or from the proposed facility.

East End Recycling’s site plan application was filed more than two years ago and has not been approved.

“I don’t even know if that project is moving forward,” Mr. Walter said.

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