Riverhead Town is throwing its hat in the ring in a competition among county, municipal and private entities all trying to entice Federal Aviation Administration officials to build a state-of-the-art air traffic control facility on their land.
Wherever the NextGen Integrated Air Traffic Control Facility is built in lower New York State or Long Island, it would bring with it some 800 highly technical and well-paid permanent jobs, as well as hundreds of construction jobs over 10 years officials say.
The FAA hopes to have the project online by 2019.
Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, after some pushback from Supervisor Sean Walter, convinced the Town Board to submit an application last week.
The submission also comes at the urging of Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), Ms. Giglio said.
“It would obviously be a boon to Riverhead so Congressman Bishop encourages them to apply,” said Bishop spokesman Oliver Longwell, noting that Mr. Bishop has not publicly endorsed a location, as several applications are coming from within his 1st Congressional District.
Riverhead officials are proposing town-owned land at the Calverton Enterprise Park, once the site of a Grumman fighter pilot testing facility.
“Congressman Bishop is fighting hard to have the new FAA tower built on Long Island,” Mr. Longwell said. “EPCAL does seem to fit the criteria but we’re not sure about [easement questions], as there are complicated environmental issues at the site.”
The facility, which would be satellite-based, unlike current radar-based air traffic control systems, would consolidate and replace the functions of the existing FAA Air Route Traffic Control Center at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip Town and the existing Terminal Radar Approach Control facility in Westbury, federal officials say.
As for the competition for the new facility, Islip Town has been pushing the FAA for some time to build it at MacArthur Airport and, locally, officials with Rechler Equity Partners have confirmed that they have submitted land they lease from the county at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton as a possible site for the FAA project.
Other Long Island sites that have been suggested include a 40-acre parcel on Nicolls Road near Suffolk Community College in Selden, Mitchell Field in Nassau County and possibly 95 acres owned by Jan Burman at EPCAL, according to Ms. Giglio. It could not be immediately confirmed which of these other locations were being officially considered through the application process.
Ms. Giglio said that if Mr. Burman’s land at EPCAL won the FAA facility, as opposed to town-owned land at the former Grumman site, the town would lose out on potential tax revenues it would receive if Mr. Burman’s land were developed by private enterprise, since the FAA would be tax exempt. Mr. Burman could not be reached for comment.
A number of upstate locations also have been mentioned as possible locations for the FAA facility, Ms. Giglio said, including Stewart International Airport in Newburgh and a site near Albany.
Ms. Giglio raised the issue at last Thursday’s Riverhead Town Board work session, which is open to the public, and made the argument that since the FAA is running advertisements seeking a new centralized location for the facilities, the town should at least try to lure it to EPCAL.
But Mr. Walter disagreed.
“We should be looking at this as a region and not stealing this,” he said.
Mr. Walter believes there is a danger that the FAA might move the facility off Long Island altogether and that Long Island officials should present a unified show of support for keeping it in Islip.
There are Riverhead residents who work at the Islip Town-owned airport who would lose their jobs, he said.
But Ms. Giglio countered that other Long Island towns are already trying to “steal” the project and that Riverhead officials should be most concerned with bringing it to Riverhead Town.
Because the FAA is exempt from town zoning, she said, a facility at EPCAL would not require new zoning or state Department of Environmental Conservation approvals and the town wouldn’t have to spend any money because the FAA has money earmarked and in place for the project.
“This would bring 800 high-paying jobs to the area,” she said.
The FAA wants to locate the regional facility within 150 miles of New York City and is seeking 34 to 49 acres for the project. The site must be in New York State and the landowner must be willing to sell the property to the FAA.
“The site must be suitable for construction of an operational air traffic control campus with approximately 250,000 square feet of buildings and parking for 800 employees,” the FAA said.
FAA officials would not disclose what sites have been submitted so far. The deadline for submissions is Jan. 31.
“It’s perfect for EPCAL,” Councilman Jim Wooten said during last week’s meeting.
Mr. Walter said the Town Board should at least have Islip Supervisor Tom Croci come to Riverhead to explain the importance of the facility to his town.
“I’m not concerned about Islip; I’m concerned about Riverhead,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said.
“It can’t hurt,” Councilman John Dunleavy said, although he questioned why the town always waits until the last minute on applications like this.
Mr. Walter ultimately gave in and directed town community development agency director Chris Kempner to prepare a proposal to locate the facility at EPCAL.
Back on July 12, Mr. Walter participated in an Islip Town press conference with other Long Island officials backing MacArthur Airport as the location for the NextGen facility.
Other officials at that press conference included then-Brookhaven supervisor Mark Lesko. Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Babylon Supervisor and Suffolk Democratic Party chairman Richard Schaffer and several other state, county and business officials, according to Inez Birbiglia, Islip Town’s communications director.
“It was pretty bipartisan,” Ms. Birbiglia said, as both Republican and Democratic officials backed the Islip site.
Ms. Birbiglia said on Tuesday that Islip Town was under the impression Riverhead supported the MacArthur Airport site for the FAA facility.
Islip Town officials believe MacArthur is the best site for the NextGen facility, she said.
“We have 80 acres available just a few thousand feet away from the existing ARTCC and the FAA employees already live in the surrounding neighborhood.”
The NextGen facility will be regional and will serve airports throughout the New York City region, so it’s not necessary that it be located at an existing airport, officials said.
The FAA’s NextGen control system was designed to eliminate older radar-based technologies and rely more on global positioning satellites, enabling aircraft to fly closer to one another in ever-crowded skyways while providing less separation in time and space during takeoffs and landings, ultimately alleviating flight delays that have plagued New York area airports over the years, according to Islip officials.