The Riverhead Town Board recently passed a number of resolutions that “pre-qualify” a several firms to submit proposals for the construction of a solar photovoltaic plant at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. The location of such an installation would be the proposed subdivided lots located near the south end of the 7,000-foot runway.
Although the North Fork Environmental Council certainly supports the use of such green technology to meet our energy needs, we have to wonder why this project cannot be considered for construction on the runway itself. The western runway at EPCAL occupies approximately 30-plus acres and would certainly provide more than a substantial base for the infrastructure for the solar panels.
Extrapolations based on power generation from the BP/Met Life Long Island Solar Farm at Brookhaven National Laboratory indicate that a power plant constructed on the 7,000-foot runway would conservatively supply 7.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. This would provide enough renewable power for approximately 800 homes, with maximum solar energy generation occurring during the summer months when the demand for electricity is greatest due to air-conditioning loads. Data provided for the 200-acre solar farm at BNL indicates that a solar farm on the EPCAL runway would offset approximately 5,400 metric tons of carbon annually.
In order to allow the town to subdivide and partially develop land at EPCAL, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is requiring that the town cover the 7,000-foot runway with soil to partially compensate for the clearing and removal of grasslands and trees.
The NFEC questions the wisdom of this proposal.
If my calculations are correct, covering the 30-acre runway with six inches of soil would require depositing approximately 24,000 cubic yards. Assuming an average dump truck capacity of 20 cubic yards means this would require something on the order of 1,200 truckloads. Needless to say, this mandate would be a very expensive endeavor with questionable environmental benefit. One must also ask where all this valuable topsoil would be transported from.
Naturally, the North Fork Environmental Council supports the town’s interest in establishing a solar farm at EPCAL. Such an installation would help meet increasing demand for electricity and help New York reach the goal of producing 30 percent of its energy needs through renewable means by 2015.
But why not use the runway for the solar farm and preserve 30 acres of trees or grassland elsewhere?
George Bartunek is a Riverhead resident and vice president of the North Fork Environmental Council.
To the editor:
I have no doubt that if reporter Tim Gannon continues biking regularly on the EPCAL Recreation Path he will be ready for the 2014 Tour de France. Furthermore, if he had started using the path last winter for improving his skiing techniques, we would be sending him to the winter Olympics in Sochi with the rest of the U.S. Ski team. Next time, Tim.
One correction to Tim’s column on bicycling: the Town Board vote on the resolution to apply for the grant funding to complete the path was 4 to 1, with Supervisor Sean Walter dissenting. Regardless, Sean later mentioned to me he likes the path because he can drive on it to show off the real estate at EPCAL to potential buyers. We really need to fix that.
When the EPCAL path is completed and the proposed trail between Port Jefferson and Wading River becomes a reality, all bicyclists will need to do is bike the three or so miles on wide shoulders of Route 25A to get from one to the other. Wow.
George Bartunek, Calverton
To read more letters to the editor, pick of a copy of this week’s Riverhead News-Review on newsstands or click on the E-Paper.
Court decisions concerning land use recently reported by the Riverhead News-Review require response by the North Fork Environmental Council. The New York State Supreme Court determinations in question basically undermine the Town of Riverhead’s independence and ability to enforce its own zoning regulations.
The News-Review article of Jan. 6 reported the determination by Supreme Court Judge Peter Cohalan requires that the town must reverse its position to dismiss the application by the Jamesport Manor Inn to expand its operation to include catering. In this article, Supervisor Sean Walter is quoted as saying that Riverhead has “no choice but to appeal [the Supreme Court decision]. It doesn’t make for good law or good precedent. It needs to be appealed.” A follow-up article on the matter that was printed in the News-Review of Jan. 20 implies that even though the town has filed a notice to appeal the court’s verdict, the Town Board may not actually proceed with the appeal. The North Fork Environmental Council believes that the Town of Riverhead has an obligation and responsibility to follow through with an appeal in order to defend its ability to enforce its zoning regulations and to protect the quality of life for Riverhead’s residents, for whom those zoning regulations were crafted.
The court determined that catering is a “permitted, incidental and customary accessory use to the permitted restaurant” and that not allowing this expansion of commercialism in the town’s Agricultural Protection Use zone would result in a financial hardship for the owners of the restaurant. However, finding that “the proposed catering facility does not change the basic nature of the use of the property” is, in Judge Cohalan’s own words, an arbitrary and capricious determination. Furthermore, the court’s decision is based in part upon the fact that there are other nearby facilities that also provide catering, such as Martha Clara Vineyards.
What apparently was not recognized is that these businesses were established prior to the adoption of new zoning regulations. The town’s position that allowing the construction of a catering facility adjacent to the restaurant is by definition an expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming use must be sustained if the town’s own zoning laws are to have meaning.
The principal owners of the Jamesport Manor Inn, Matt and Gail Kar, are well-liked and highly respected members of the community and have donated generously to the North Fork Environmental Council. Regardless, it would be irresponsible of the North Fork Environmental Council to not support the town’s intentions to appeal the court’s decision.
The second issue that was reported in the Jan. 13 News-Review involves a state Supreme Court decision denying Riverhead’s ability to enforce an injunction against the Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard. The town was reacting to complaints by neighbors that the vineyard was conducting “special events, like weddings and parties, without obtaining proper town permits” and the noise generated by the loud music at these events was an infringement on the quality of life of surrounding residents. The court’s determination in this case was based upon the position that any activity that promotes farming activity should be allowed and cannot be regulated by town code. This decision has the potential of negatively impacting the rural character of the entire Sound Avenue corridor and the North Fork of Long Island. The council applauds the entrepreneurship of the wine-producing industry of the North Fork and the fact that most of the vintners are successful without the hosting of the types of events conducted by the Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard. Hopefully, the owners of the Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard will realize that they have a certain responsibility to help preserve the rural and scenic quality of Sound Avenue.
The North Fork Environmental Council calls on the Riverhead Town Board to act responsibly to enforce its zoning laws and protect its local jurisdiction to protect residential and agricultural zones from improper commercial development. The Town of Riverhead is a critical part of the North Fork and the government of Riverhead needs to do whatever it can to help “save what’s left.”
Mr. Bartunek is vice president of the North Fork Environmental Council.