Should the town approve a plan to lease its eastern runway in Calverton for up to 30 years to an aerospace start-up? Or should it try to renegotiate with that start-up, which could blossom into a “cutting-edge, high-technology aerospace manufacturing” company?
Nearly everyone who spoke at a Tuesday night public hearing on the topic spoke in favor of the agreement, which concerned having Riverhead Town lease its eastern air strip at the Enterprise Park at Calverton to Luminati Aerospace. Luminati company recently purchased Skydive Long Island — which previously leased the runway from the town — for $3.4 million and hopes to extend’s the previous company’s lease. Meanwhile it has also hinted at possibly purchasing outright the town’s western runway.
Luminato founder and CEO Daniel Preston, along with members of his “dream team” of engineers and professors, spoke in favor of the agreement. Several other residents backed the bargain, hoping that Luminati can bring EPCAL back to its former glory.
Northrup Grumman previously used the 2,900 acres of land on the western side of town to engineer and test airplanes before it was given to Riverhead in the late 1990s. While the town sold about 500 acres in the early 2000s, the rest has gone largely unused while the town attempts to develop it.
While Luminati would set up shop on privately owned land that the town already sold, Riverhead would reap $31,810 per year (plus cost of living increases) from the lease — the same terms Skydive Long Island paid. Two 10-year extensions are also an option for Luminati.
“People always said they want to get high tech, high-paying jobs back in Riverhead. Well, now you got it,” said Ray Maynard, the now-retired former owner of Sky Dive Long Island.
“Aerospace companies have left Long Island and this is an opportunity to bring them back,” said Glenn Suss.
“There is a brain drain of people moving off Long Island and having the opportunity to have Luminati here is a gift,” said Bryan DeLuca, the executive director of the Long Island Aquarium and Hyatt East End.
However, not everyone was ready for the town to sign on the dotted line.
The main criticism came from Larry Simms of South Jamesport, who said he supported the project but felt the terms of the runway use agreement were “lopsided” in Luminati’s favor. Breaking the annual cost down to $8 per hour — “less than the price any of us would pay a babysitter” — Mr. Simms said the town should have bargained more for it.
But more importantly, he said, more oversight from the town over the runway’s use should have been worked into the contract. “Luminati would have exclusive use of the runway, meaning that no one uses it unless they (Luminati) agree,” he said. “And they set the terms and conditions, and those conditions can include any fees they chose.”
Supervisor Sean Walter said many other municipalities were actually willing to pay Luminati to come to their locations.
“Your comments do not make sense against that backdrop,” he said.
Luminati leaders — many of whom introduced themselves during the public hearing — said the company will remain at EPCAL after its “multi-million dollar” project to build unmanned aerial vehicles is completed.
“After the initial project is concluded, Luminati plans to establish itself as a major force in the global aerospace industry, focusing on cutting-edge, high-technology aerospace manufacturing,” Mr. Preston said.
“Our manufacturing will trigger significant expansion of the Luminati facilities and create a substantial number of additional jobs. I and many of Luninati’s key employees are here I’m moving to Riverhead and seeking home roots here.”
Luminati believes that this is the start of a long and mutually beneficial relationship between the company and Riverhead.
As for their current project, Mr. Preston has declined to identify the client or the specifics of the project, saying only: “Luminati has recently commenced work on a multimillion dollar project involving research, development, testing and manufacturing of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles, of UAVs.”
He said they are not making drones, as many have described the project. He called them UAVs, and said the “UAVs that we produced by illuminati will be solar electric. Our business will be high-tech, green and with little to no noise. The runway will be used by illuminati of the UAVs we built and support aircraft.”
The UAVs will fly at high altitudes and can stay aloft nearly indefinitely, the company’s website says. The website also lists a number of job openings the company is looking to fill and the qualifications sought for those jobs. The company said it would be hiring up to 40 people to start.
As for the client, Mr. Preston said: “The project is being funded by Luminati’s client, which is a Fortune 250 company that will use UAVs that we produce the public good.
“Our client believes that public disclosure of its identity at this time would be premature, as the list of companies in this space is very limited. The identity of our client has been disclosed to the town supervisor, Mr. (Sean) Walter, subject to the terms of a confidentiality agreement.”
Many have speculated that the client is either Facebook or Google, both of which have undergone projects to build drones that will fly in the stratosphere and beam down wireless internet, and Facebook reportedly is using solar powered drones to do so. According to the most recent Fortune 500, Facebook is ranked 242, and Google is ranked 40.
The Town Board is expected to vote on the agreement at its Nov. 4 meeting.
Caption: Larry Simms speaks at Tuesday night’s public hearing. (Credit: Tim Gannon)