Tensions continued to escalate at Thursday's Riverhead Town board work session as Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio exchanged heated words about a potential proposal that could site a Federal Aviation Administration radar control facility at Enterprise Park at Calverton.
In the end, after a lengthy discussion, the board agreed to offer 50 acres at EPCAL to the FAA, should an eventual proposal be accepted.
Last week, Giglio said the FAA wanted to relocate the FAA Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) from its current location at Long Island MacArthur Airport in the Town of Islip.
She asked at last week's work session that the town prepare an application so that Riverhead could be in the running, should the facility be moved.
Last week, Walter objected and said he had met with Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci, as well as other elected officials, all of whom agreed to present a unified, regional front and urge the FAA to leave the facility where it currently sited, protecting the jobs of those who currently work there.
Giglio reminded that the matter is time sensitive; she stressed the importance of keeping the facility, and jobs, on Long Island and said the FAA was considering sites in Albany and elsewhere in Hudson County.
The facility, Giglio said, could bring jobs and other benefits to the Riverhead area.
On Thursday, Chris Kempner, Riverhead's Community Development Agency Director, said the FAA was asking for a request for information, a single sheet of paper describing the history of the site, as well as a map.
Walter said the document for the FAA, which Giglio wanted the board to sign and ratify at Tuesday's town board meeting, was "premature;" he said he wanted the board to discuss the issue.
Kempner said what would be submitted is not an application, just a request for information from the FAA; the FAA is hoping to hear from owners interested in selling land to the government. The RFI is open through Jan. 31, she said. An request for proposals and a formal application would come later, she said.
Walter said there were "serious" issues to discuss. The FAA, he said, has said that sites that have a seasonal groundwater table of less than 10 feet, would not be considered for the facility.
"That's three quarters of the property," he said.
In addition, Walter said, the FAA said sites with a history of material contamination would not be considered; he said groundwater beneath some of the property is contaminated.
"Why are you bashing EPCAL, Sean?" Giglio asked. "Who are you answering to?"
Walter said if the facility couldn't stay in Islip, "there is no better place for it to go but EPCAL."
But, he said, the groundwater and contamination issues need to be addressed. The only site on the EPCAL property, he said, would be near the Calverton Business Incubator.
Walter said he was "not adverse" to giving the FAA 50 acres near the Incubator for the facility, should they show interest in EPCAL.
He said, however, that is any kind of letter or application was to be submitted to the FAA, "We've got to put our best foot forward."
Other concerns, Walter said, include a spike in traffic on Route 25, with 1000 vehicles plus trucks and traffic the facility could generate -- as well as whether the sewage treatment plant could handle the increased capacity the facility would bring. In addition, he said, a roadway structure could be needed
"We're just throwing our hat into the ring," Councilman Jim Wooten said.
Walter insisted the questions needed to be examined before any forward movement could take place.
"I don't understand why all the negatives are being pointed out," Giglio said. She repeated, "Why are you bashing EPCAL?"
Giglio added that what was needed currently was not a formal application; Congressman Tim Bishop said only two pages, with a history of the site and a map, were necessary at this stage.
Walter said he would "love to do this" but wondered where the $15 million for the necessary sewage treatment plant upgrade would come from.
Giglio again asked why Walter was "bashing" EPCAL and suggested grant monies be sought.
"You guys are always arguing," Councilman John Dunleavy said. "Can we stop and get someplace?"
"I'm going to Modell's to buy a referee shirt," quipped Councilman George Gabrielsen.
Walter said the subdivision map at EPCAL was close to being completed and added that the goal is to let the FAA know that as a town, Riverhead would be willing to welcome the facility -- but first, it was critical to know what the FAA would want done to facilitate that.
"How do we overcome these obstacles?" Walter asked.
Gabrielsen said the issues could be overcome; the sewer plant could be upgraded, using funds from the FAA that were meant to be spent to purchase land, since the town would give the FAA the land for free.
Dunleavy said all that's happening at this point is the town would be submitting a letter saying the site is available and if it meets the FAA's criteria, an application could be submitted.
Giglio said she had spoken with Bishop, who had met with the commissioner of the FAA; Bishop told her that the more properties that were available on Long Island, the better chance that the facility, with its 1000 jobs, would stay local.
Kempner said the FAA is looking to build a 250,000 square foot building.
The town agreed to offer the FAA 50 acres next to the Calverton Business Incubator. At that location, Walter said there would be no worries about a road opening.
As to whether the site would be sold or leased, the board agreed no decisions needed to be made at that point.
The board agreed to submit the letter and the map.
Giglio added that she'd like former Congressman George Hochbrueckner, whom the town hired as a consultant to work on the EPCAL subdivision map, to lobby on the town's behalf to the FAA. Walter said the board could ask him to write a letter but any further work, that would result in paying him more, would need to be negotiated and passed by town board resolution.
Receive updates to this story and other breaking news in your inbox or on your smartphone by signing up for our newsletter here