Walter: Feds pledge to help get Cuomo’s ear over EPCAL

10/17/2012 5:00 PM |
DEC, Sean Walter, EPCAL

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The southern entrance into the already-developed part of EPCAL, referred to as the industrial core.

Hoping to jump-start development on some 800 acres of town land in Calverton, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter met with staff members of the area’s three federal representatives Friday in Riverhead Town Hall.

Mr. Walter kicked off the meeting by handing out copies of the 1998 federal legislation giving the land to the town on the condition that it be used for economic development.

The state has been making it difficult for the town to achieve its economic goals at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, which include drawing up a subdivision map that’s needed in order to sell the land in parcels, Mr. Walter has said.

He expressed those sentiments to the federal officials Friday, and the representatives promised to try to get him a meeting with the governor’s office, Mr. Walter reported after Friday’s meeting.

Mr. Walter met with Kyle Strober of Senator Charles Schumer’s office, Kristin Walsh of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office and Oliver Longwell from Congressman Tim Bishop’s office.

The three elected leaders issued a joint statement Friday evening that reads, in its entirety:

“Our offices met with Supervisor Walter this morning regarding the town’s plan for the EPCAL property in Calverton. We are committed to helping facilitate a dialogue between the Supervisor, the DEC and the [state] administration.”

At a candidate’s forum on Monday, Mr. Bishop said, “To the extent that we can use our offices to either bring the two sides together, if there is a DEC issue that flows from a federal mandate, that’s something we can try to do.”

He said the town only reached out to him last week.

“I’ve been in office 10 years, and every single time anyone from Riverhead has asked for help, we have delivered that help and the desired result,” he said.

Mr. Walter said the federal officials pledged to help get town officials a meeting with the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, the supervisor and town officials are meeting again with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Oct. 22 to talk about EPCAL, and the federal representatives asked to be updated on that meeting, Mr. Walter said.

“Hopefully, because it is the largest commercial industrial subdivision in New York State, we have [federal] attention and hopefully we’ll get the attention of the governor’s office and can sit down with him,” Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Walter and the Town Board had envisioned being able to develop about 800 of over 2,000 acres of town land in Calverton. But the supervisor says the DEC is suggesting much less, more like 550, when you take into account that its proposals would carve the land into non-contiguous parcels to protect wildlife habitats.

State DEC officials say they’re not to blame.

“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. “The Burman industrial subdivision alone has created hundreds of new jobs and generated millions in tax revenues, and the rail spur project will make the site even more attractive for future economic development. Projects that have not moved forward have not advanced for other reasons.

“DEC has never denied a permit for economic development at EPCAL.”

Mr. Fonda said earlier this week that the agency is trying to help hammer out a workable subdivision that would complement the town’s objectives.

But that subdivision map, he added, “must also satisfy regulatory requirements.”

Town-backed state legislation aimed at creating a special commission to fast-track development at EPCAL passed in the state Senate during the last legislative session, but never came to a vote in the Assembly.

Nonetheless, Mr. Walter, a Republican, said he’s optimistic about federal help from the Democratic representatives.

“I think it’s really that we are all their constituents and they want to do what’s right by their constituents,” Mr. Walter said. “This is a project of not just Riverhead significance but regional significance and it has to be treated that way.

“Quite frankly, I think there have been so many crazy approaches to trying to get economic development at EPCAL that everybody is a little gun-shy because they’re not sure what the crazy Town of Riverhead is going to do next,” he continued. “Even trying to put forward the polo proposal now would be Riverhead acting crazy again.”

Despite the town’s missteps over the years, state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said this week he thought things were going well as of late, and he disagreed with Mr. Walter’s new approach in calling on the feds.

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

The town is currently about halfway done with an environmental impact study for EPCAL and has had two fully drawn subdivision maps for the property created by VHB, the consulting firm that the town paid about $500,000 to study EPCAL and create a new subdivision map there.

Even if everything gets moving as planned, Mr. Walter anticipates a slow build-out of the industrial property, possibly 20 years.

“It’s going to be one building at a time,” he said. “But I’m hoping that the lots we want to build along Route 25 move quickly. Those are the most valuable ones.”

tgannon@timesreview.com