In less than two short decades, the North Fork has seen Grumman Corporation’s fighter jet assembly and testing facility in Calverton shut down; North Fork Bank’s acquisition by Capital One Bank, which later closed its Mattituck headquarters; Mattituck Aviation — globally famous for its airplane engine overhauls — purchased by a Chinese company and relocated; and an announcement that the Plum Island Animal Disease Center would be shuttered in favor of a new facility in Kansas.
In 2008, in the face of cost-cutting measures included in a proposed congressional budget, it also appeared the area would lose an additional 1,000 nearby jobs at Brookhaven National Lab — at least until Congressman Tim Bishop stepped in and fought to keep those jobs here. Meanwhile, economic development at the former Grumman site, now called the Enterprise Park at Calverton, has been largely stagnant.
It’s clear that the greatest threat to our region, its real estate market and the families who live here is the continued loss of well-paid jobs. That’s why the North Fork needs a facility like the NextGen Integrated Air Traffic Control Facility, a campus comprising 250,000 square feet of buildings that would generate some 800 highly technical and well-paid permanent local jobs, as well as hundreds of construction jobs over a 10-year building period. Riverhead Town officials agreed last week to submit an application to bring the project to town land at EPCAL.
Frankly, the people of the North Fork and adjacent areas need the facility more than those in Islip Town, Nassau County and even Selden, where residents are more easily able to commute to New York City and other points west, where more vibrant industrial economies exist and quality jobs are more readily available. While it’s understandable that Mr. Bishop doesn’t want to choose sides among constituents in his vast district, he should recognize this great threat to the region and push for sites on, or closer to, the East End. While the FAA coming to town-owned land at EPCAL would be best for Riverhead taxpayers in particular, any land in the area will do — even property near Westhampton’s Gabreski Airport or privately held land at the EPCAL site.
It is regrettable, as Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy pointed out last week, that the town has arrived late to the party in making a pitch for this facility. Now, we can only hope the delay doesn’t hurt the town’s chances of getting it.
The News-Review has supported Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter’s efforts to create an economic generator at EPCAL by subdividing the property and selling off the land to individual companies. But this FAA facility is a potential game changer, just as other projects might be as they are proposed for the site. Mr. Walter will need to adjust his vision for EPCAL accordingly. Yes, as Mr. Walter has said, thinking about Long Island as a whole has its benefits — but it’s a big island, and things that benefit Westbury or Lindenhurst or Islip Town can actually worsen our precarious situation on the East End. And that, it could be argued, could do even greater damage to the island as a whole.