On April 27, the Town of Riverhead won a very significant battle in the war to keep the East End the last rural area on Long Island when billionaire John Catsimatidis withdrew his oil terminal’s application to expand into a full-fledged gasoline distribution center.
Hundreds of citizens joined together with multiple civic associations and local environmental and preservation groups and told the Town Board to reject this application from United Riverhead Terminal. By all accounts, the board was prepared to do just that and, as a result, Mr. Catsimatidis conceded.
This victory came close on the heels of the rejection of a plan to divert 3,000 heavy tractor-trailers off I-95 and onto the North Fork via the Cross Sound Ferry. The common factor in both victories was the prevention of additional trucks being introduced onto our rural roads.
Long Island politicians, including Congressman Lee Zeldin, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski made strong statements opposing the I-95 plan, calling it “ill-advised” and pointing out that North Fork roads are not “designated to handle heavy pass-through truck traffic.”
Locally, Riverhead Highway Superintendent George Woodson, Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio also voiced strong opposition to this plan. Mr. Woodson said, “Our local roads just aren’t built to handle that weight.” Supervisor Walter declared, “This idea is dead on arrival … we could and we would put weight limits on Sound Avenue.” And Councilwoman Giglio added, “Our roads can’t take this abuse.”
Curiously, none of the above politicians specifically spoke on the record against the trucks that would have been added to our roads had the oil terminal been granted a special permit to expand. Yet, this permit would have allowed, at a minimum, an extra 4,000 trucks — 1,000 more than the I-95 scheme. The maximum would have been a potential 15,000 additional trucks per year. And all of these trucks would’ve been carrying highly flammable gasoline.
People asked me if I celebrated after the terminal’s application was withdrawn. The honest answer was no. First of all, we do not know what Mr. Catsimatidis is planning next — although he did say he might “spend the money elsewhere” which we strongly encourage. Certainly there are industrial areas on Long Island that are more suited for gasoline distribution. And second of all, despite our victory, Riverhead still has a huge truck problem.
While the town wasn’t looking, Mr. Catsimatidis introduced his own fleet of 18- and 22-wheel tractor-trailers as part of the day-to-day operations at the United Riverhead Terminal. These massive trucks, the same size trucks that appeared to be a major factor (based on private conversations) in the board’s decision to reject the terminal expansion, are routinely seen pummeling our local roads, from Sound Shore Road to Penny’s Road and Sound Avenue to Twomey and Edwards avenues.
In addition to dangerous potholes, we are deeply concerned about the increased potential for fatal accidents. My next-door neighbor’s niece was literally run off the road by a giant oil truck the other day as she was making a left turn onto Penny’s Road (the oil truck had swung into the easterly lane to make a right turn onto Sound Avenue). That is just one of many near-misses that people have told me about since we started keeping a more watchful eye on the terminal’s operations. So far, we’ve been lucky that no one has been hurt.
And then there are fires. When interviewed by CBS local news back in April, Mr. Catsimatidis asked, “When was the last time you saw a gas tank explode?” If he had done his homework, he would have known that one month before the interview, a gasoline tanker caught on fire on the LIE in nearby Melville. One month after the interview, a tanker truck overturned and caught fire on the New Jersey Turnpike near Woodbridge. That’s only two of many tank explosions that have occurred over the past six months alone.
All of these horrible incidents occurred on major highways and, fortunately, the fires were all eventually contained. But imagine if a truck caught fire near a bluff, farmland or your house. We have been told it would take an hour just for the nearest HAZMAT team to arrive in Riverhead.
We the people have another opportunity to protect the area we love. On Wednesday, May 20, the Riverhead Town Board will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. on a proposal to amend the town code and set an eight-ton weight limit on Twomey Avenue in Calverton. I mean absolutely no offense to the residents of Twomey, but what makes this local road more special than Edwards or Sound? We must encourage the board to expand this proposal and set weight and size limits on all of our local roads.
The five boroughs of New York have size and weight restrictions. The larger gasoline and oil trucks are not permitted within the city limits because of their tendency to tip over when making turns.
The people of Riverhead deserve these same exact safety precautions. Please sign our petition at www.northvillebeach.org/petitions and hopefully we’ll see you at Town Hall on the 20th.