A proposal to seek federal grants for freight rail enhancements at Enterprise Park at Calverton was met with skepticism from Supervisor Sean Walter at Thursday’s Riverhead Town Board work session.
He suggested that freight enhancements at ECPAL could come with strings attached, such as a requirement from state or federal officials to use the rail spur to transport garbage in and out of the adjacent sand mine property owned by Calverton Industries, where a major recycling and compost facility has been proposed in the past.
The freight rail spur, which connects EPCAL to the Long Island Rail Road main line via Connecticut Avenue, was restored in 2011, at a cost of $5.5 million, after lying dormant for more than 30 years.
So far, only one EPCAL business — Eastern Wholesale Fence — uses the spur. Another company, Metro, had planned to use it, but the company went bankrupt and its new owners are not currently using it.
At Thursday’s work session, town Community Development Agency director Chris Kempner suggest the town apply for federal TIGER grants for the rail spur.
An acronym for “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery,” the TIGER grants are a U.S. Department of Transportation program that has $500 million in grants available nationwide for 2016.
“There are two large federal grants available from DOT and one specifically for freight enhancements,” Ms. Kempner told the board Thursday. “Because the rail spur has been identified in regional documents on the need for enhanced rail freight on Long Island, I think you have a good shot at getting it.”
She said there’s $10 million available in grants for rail improvements.
“To do what?” Mr. Walter asked. “If someone is giving you a grant, they are going to be bringing stuff to you and we may not want the stuff they are bringing.”
Ms. Kempner said the grant application would seek money to add new rail sidings to the EPCAL rail spur so it could benefit additional businesses. She said she hopes that other businesses will agree to fund a portion of the rail enhancements not covered by the grant and that the town would not need to provide funding for the improvements.
Mr. Walter his biggest concern is that “there’s a big push coming to rail garbage off Long Island and I’m very fearful that if we take this kind of money,” it may come with requirements to start transporting garbage off from the adjacent Calverton Industries property.
Other Town Board members did not share Mr. Walter’s skepticism.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said enhancing the rail spur will make EPCAL more marketable. Councilman John Dunleavy said enhanced use of the rail spur is good for the environment, because it will remove trucks from the highways.
He said one rail car will take three trucks off the road.
Mr. Dunleavy said the town has already accepted state and federal money for the rail spur and has not been pressured into allowing garbage hauling by rail.
Mr. Walter said he wants to see letters of intent from businesses that are interested in funding the rail enhancements and he wants the grant applications to be seen by the Town Board members before they’re submitted.
The 50-acre Calverton Industries property to the immediate east of EPCAL, which is headed by Mike Cholowsky, has been operated as a sand mine for several years. Mr. Cholowsky and the Town also had been in court over the legality of that sand mine for several years.
A group called East End Recycling and Composting Co. received a state Department of Conservation solid waste permit for a 500-ton-per-day recycling and composting facility on the property in the 1990s, when the property was owned by Parvis Farahzad, and had kept it renewed in subsequent years. It was not immediately clear if the permit is still valid.
An official from the DEC was researching that question, as well as whether the DEC is pushing rail transport of solid waste, at The News-Review’s request.
East End Recycling is headed by John Cameron, who is the founder of Cameron Engineering and the current chair of the Long Island Regional Planning Board.
He has proposed a site plan calling for solid waste transfer station and recycling facility, and an indoor composting facility on 10 acres that East End Recycling would lease from Calverton Industries. To date, that site plan has never been approved by the town, and has been revised many times over the years. It was last discussed at a town Planning Board meeting in 2012.
Mr. Cameron could not immediately be reached for comment, but he told the News-Review in 2012 that East End Recycling has no plans to use freight rail to haul garbage.
Mr. Cholowsky was part of a group that in 2003 made a presentation before the Town Board seeking to use the rail to haul garage to and from his Calverton property by extending the rail spur to his property at his own expense. That proposal never went any further. Ms. Cholowsky in March of this year was indicted for payroll fraud in Manhattan.
One of the grants discussed had an April 14 application deadline, so officials will be concentrating on the other one.
The one company that is using the EPCAL rail spur came under criticism from the Town earlier in Thursday’s work session. The Planning Department said Eastern Wholesale Fence constructed several buildings on its property without site plan approvals, and it lacks proper screening to store materials outdoors.
According to town planning and building administrator Jeff Murphree, zoning variances from the town Zoning Board of Appeals are required and a revised site plan approval from the Town Board to legalize the buildings. New state permits may also be required to allow construction within the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act boundaries.
John Zollo, the attorney for Eastern Wholesale Fence, said they would submit the new plans within 60 days.