Guest Column: EPCAL can help our veterans — and our region

11/16/2014 8:00 AM |

Gray shuts out the sun as another winter begins to descend upon the Enterprise Park at Calverton, known as EPCAL.

For 20 years now, the former Grumman property — once a fertile crescent of ideas and action, the place that defended freedom in time of danger and placed a man on the moon — has sat cold and dormant. For 20 years, EPCAL has been long on talk and short on results. With so much riding on ECPAL, and so little vision coming from our politicians, I believe it is time to sound the trumpet. I believe it is time for us to get moving again.

Today, I offer a plan. I propose that at the core of EPCAL we pursue a state-of-the art veterans health care and research facility. I believe this center should be married to a private sector health complex that can serve eastern Suffolk.

Consider the following:

• The state of care for veterans in this country is deplorable. The recent veterans hospital scandal underscores how long our nation’s heroes have to wait for health care that is often substandard. This condition is unacceptable and we know the federal government intends to spend money to address the problem. Long Island should ask for its fair share.

• Recent press reports state that Peconic Bay Medical Center, Southampton Hospital and Eastern Long Island will all be seeking to merge in some fashion to make delivering health care more efficient and economically viable. If Stony Brook University Medical Center is involved, as has been reported, we know New York State will commit funds to this endeavor.

• Health care is one of the fastest growing, highest paying and biggest job creating sectors of the American economy — and as our population ages, this will only become more true.

• Calverton, home of the nation’s largest military burial ground, serves as a stark reminder of the high population of veterans in our region. Those same soldiers deserve health care close by.

So, if we lack costly infrastructure at EPCAL, why not partner with the deep-pocketed federal and state governments to provide it?

If we seek high-paying, technology-driven jobs at EPCAL, why not bring the kind of real jobs one can raise a family on? If we want jobs all our people can hold, why not broad-based health care jobs that can be either highly skilled or more service in nature?

If we seek jobs that will keep our kids on Long Island, why not partner with nursing programs at Suffolk, Dowling and Stony Brook, where there is also a medical school? If we seek low-impact development at EPCAL, why not a hospital and research facilities, which unlike industry do not offer belching smokestacks? If we seek to develop as a region, why not align with Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Lab and Brookhaven National Lab, which can add synergy to a regional hospital facility? With health care at EPCAL’s core, the next phase of EPCAL’s development could bring professional centers, pharmaceutical firms and research facilities.

Our region could lead the way in medical technology and disease tracking.

It’s time for a fresh start and a new approach at EPCAL. This region just elected a new congressman, Lee Zeldin, whose political party is in the majority. As a combat veteran himself, I’m sure he would welcome the challenge of fighting for his fellow soldiers. We just re-elected the 38-year dean of the state Senate delegation in Ken LaValle. Who better to get Stony Brook and New York State to the table as a partner? Let’s summon them to help.

Is all this a good idea? A bad idea? That’s up to you to decide, but here’s what I do know: In 20 years, I haven’t heard solid suggestions for EPCAL and in a health care complex I see the promise of high-quality jobs and new opportunity. I see real partners that can take the burden of development off Riverhead’s shoulders and I see better health services for the entire East End. I also see a chance to give vets the care they have earned.

Thomas Kelly, whom NASA called “The Father of the Lunar Module,” said of his work at EPCAL: “We all knew that we were part of a majestic endeavor and that we were making history happen.’’ It’s time for Calverton to make history again.

Anthony Coates

Anthony Coates is an investment and public affairs consultant who ran for Town Board in 2013. He lives in Riverhead.