The Suffolk County Planning Commission recommended approval of Island Water Park’s proposal to tow water skiers in a man-made, groundwater-fed lake in Calverton during a commission meeting Wednesday afternoon in Hauppauge.
The commission vote had 11 members in favor, with Adrienne Esposito, who heads the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, opposed, and Glynis Berry, who owns the Art Sites gallery in Riverhead, abstaining.
Island Water Park bought the 42-acre site at the former Grumman property, now called the Enterprise Park at Calverton, from Riverhead Town in 2003 for $714,000 and originally planned to build two man-made lakes with liners in order to allow motor boats to tow water skiers.
That project received state and town approval but was shut down after the developers struck groundwater while excavating the lakes. They then revised the project to have boats water skiing in the groundwater table, but that proposal was controversial and became involved in litigation for several years, including litigation that pitted Riverhead Town against the state Pine Barrens Commission over which agency had jurisdiction over the project’s review.
Prior to purchasing the town land, Island Water Park had proposed to build the man-made lake off Youngs Avenue in Calverton, but that plan met with opposition from neighbors.
The litigation is now over, and Island Water Park has since revised its plans to eliminate the use of gas-powered motor boats in the groundwater.
Instead, the developers now plan to install an overhead tow system which would pull water skiers through the groundwater-fed lake.
The group’s site plan also calls for other water-related activities such as canoeing, kayaking, sailing, swimming and SCUBA diving, along with the construction of two buildings totaling 52,000 square feet that would house offices, a fitness center, a sport shop, a restaurant and snack bar, meeting rooms and a warehouse, according to the application.
There also would be outdoor space for things like volleyball, picnicking and hiking.
The developers have a state DEC excavating permit, and it the DEC has issued what’s called a negative declaration, meaning the project will not have a negative effect on the environment, Suffolk’s chief planner, Andrew Freleng said.
The DEC also said the project is far enough away from endangered tiger salamanders breeding ponds in Calverton so that it will not harm them.
The plan calls for construction of a concrete barrier along the south and west sides of the property to prevent the tiger salamanders from entering the site.
Ms. Esposito doubted the groundwater plan would work.
“Mark my words, they will come back within the next decade and say they need more water,” she said.
She feels they will eventually seek to pump groundwater into the lake to fill it, which she fears will deplete the groundwater.
Commission chairman Dave Calone said the DEC looked into these issues and gave them a permit.
“Right now, we have a hole in the ground,” he said, indicating that the proposed lake and recreation facility would be an improvement over that.
The project also meets the intent of the town’s Planned Recreational Park zoning district for the site, county officials said.
Ms. Berry said she would like more information about how the project went from a lake with a liner to protect the groundwater to a lake with no liner after the developer struck groundwater.
“I would rather they had a liner,” she said.
There was no one from Island Water Park present at Wednesday’s meeting.
“This will be one of the nicest places in the Northeast to go,” Island Water Park owner Eric Scott told the News-Review artier this year.
Island Water Park still needs site plan approval from Riverhead Town to proceed with the project as planned.
The park also needs approvals from the inter-agency NYS Pine Barrens Commission.