08/30/11 12:37pm
08/30/2011 12:37 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Many vineyards on the North Fork took precautionary measures that may have saved local grapes from Tropical Storm Irene's wrath.

Local farmers say corn crops took a hit during Tropical Storm Irene, but grapes appear to have made out fine.

In the days prior to then-Hurricane Irene’s arrival, farmers expressed fear that sustained winds could do millions of dollars worth of damage to North Fork crops.

“We dodged a major bullet,” said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau is working with Cornell Cooperative Extension to chronicle the damage and send that information to U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is preparing a disaster declaration request for Long Island and the Hudson Valley, Mr. Gergela said.

“Corn crops were hardest hit, they got hurt pretty bad,” Mr. Gergela said. “Tree crops, like peaches and apples, also got hurt. There were some broken trees and fruit on the ground. The grapes appear to be OK. A little bruising of the fruit.”

Charles Massoud, who owns Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue said his crops held up with the exception of about six rows of vines, which he thinks may have been hit by a small tornado, because of the way the half of them were flattened in one direction and half in the other.

They posted a short video of the damage on the Vineyard’s Facebook site.

“It was very localized and very symmetrical,” he said. “It certainly looks like a twister.”

Mr. Massoud said they didn’t report it to the National Weather Service and have since begun repairing the damage.

Other than those six rows, the grapes were all right, he said.

One other potential issue of concern to vineyards that has yet to be assessed is salt water carried by storm winds from local waterways and potentially sprayed on crops, which can be fatal to vineyard leaves, Mr. Massoud said.

“We don’t know to what extent we have any salt in the spray that was blown by the wind,” he said. “I’m assuming we didn’t get much, but if we did, it will show up in two or three days.”

That happened in Hurricane Gloria, which fortunately occurred after the grapes were harvested, Mr. Massoud said. The current grapes will be harvested in about 10 days, but he said he’s optimistic the salt spray won’t be a problem.

Ed Harbes of Harbes Farms in Mattituck and Jamesport said his corn crops were “roughed up a bit” by Irene.

“It could have been worse,” he said. “We had some corn blown down, but it will probably stand back up. And the pumpkins might be OK, they don’t like excessive water.”

He said it’s too soon to tell the full extent of the damage but he’s happy the storm wasn’t worse, and that no people were reported injured or killed on the North Fork.

“Not every area can say that,” he said.

George Gabrielsen, the Riverhead Town Councilman who owns a farm in Jamesport, said about half of his corn maze was knocked down by the storm.

“We were lucky because we had a north wind come back the other direction from the hurricane winds and pushed the corn right back,” he said.

He said the corn can be salvaged.

“I think overall I’m lucky,” he said.

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11/16/10 9:08pm
11/16/2010 9:08 PM

In last week’s News-Review Equal Time piece (“Supervisor Sean Walter fools only himself”), our former supervisor, Phil Cardinale, appeared to be confused as to why Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter was “happy” about the collapse of the Rechler Purchase of 300 acres at EPCAL. I would like to point out that I am also very happy to see the end of this contract. Rechler’s proposal to build nearly 1,000 housing units on 300 acres may have been Phil’s idea of industrial development, but I certainly didn’t think so. At the reduced price of $60,000 an acre, it would have been a home builder’s fantasy. Did that idiotic proposal qualify Rechler as the most experienced and best developer on Long Island? Phil should wake up! This project would not have created quality jobs in our town. This was a lose-lose proposition for Riverhead.

Now we will turn to another of the former supervisor’s giveaway deals gone awry. Our Town Board voted last Friday to terminate the contract with Riverhead Resorts. The group could not come up with a $6 million payment that was long overdue. Instead, Resorts representatives brought a check for the equivalent of $3.9 million in British pounds that was cancelled after a few days. Along with a price reduction from $155 million to $108 million, the developer wanted the contract extended to January 2012. With their struggle to produce a legitimate $3.9 million check, what makes anyone think they would ever be financially able to build the $2 billion ski mountain resort? These were not competent business people.

In response to Phil’s complaint about my “Great Walkout” on Riverhead Resorts, I will make it very clear that I had already met with them and their lawyers on numerous occasions over a 10-month period. I told them that if they couldn’t show me the money, I was done! When once again they showed up with no money, I stood up and said, “Enough is enough.” I would waste no more of our taxpayer money sitting through yet another publicity stunt. Any hardworking farm boy knows a horse thief when he sees one.

Phil made the deal with Riverhead Resorts and danced with the group for three years. The Resorts people made the mistake of saving the last dance for me. I walked out; the dance was over.

Dare we even talk about Phil’s failure with the Apollo Group and downtown? The former supervisor doesn’t know the definition of competence and sophistication during negotiations. Putting his failed follies behind us, we can now look to a bright future in the development of EPCAL. Working with an updated land-use plan, the Town Board can move in a different direction toward a well-thought-out subdivision. We can now realize the property’s real potential as an economic engine driving this town for generations to come.

Mr. Gabrielsen is a member of the Riverhead Town Board.

10/31/10 7:59pm
10/31/2010 7:59 PM


he plan to build a YMCA near Stotzky Park, a short jog from Riverhead’s downtown, appears to be in doubt.

The Riverhead Town Board unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday “to express support for the establishment of a YMCA at Enterprise Park at Calverton property adjoining the town’s park.”

But Joe Van de Wetering of Peconic YMCA says his group still considers the county property to be its first choice for a YMCA site. The Calverton site is more of a backup plan, he explained.

“It’s something that’s been discussed, but it’s not necessarily what we desire,” said Mr. Van de Wetering. “But we want to make sure there’s always an option.”

Peconic YMCA has been seeking a site in Riverhead for more than 10 years.

Fritz Trinklein of the YMCA of Long Island said the volunteers and contributors to the Peconic YMCA project are eager to get work started quickly, while construction prices are low, but the process of establishing a YMCA on the county land is taking longer than hoped. Currently, he said, the issue of what agency approves what on the project is being reviewed by attorneys for the county.

A proposed land swap between the county and Riverhead Town, which Mr. Trinklein had hoped could get the project moving sooner, was rejected by Town Board members earlier this year.

In the past, Peconic YMCA has opposed the idea of building a facility at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, saying the former Navy land is too far from the center of town.

Mr. Van de Wetering said that is still a drawback of the Calverton location, as is the lack of a public sewer system there.

Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen noted the Southampton Youth Association in North Sea is also far from the center of town, but employs an aggressive busing system to get kids to the facility. He believes a similar arrangement could be worked out in Riverhead, since the school district has expressed interest in using the proposed YMCA pool.

Mr. Gabrielsen said the town has designated a portion of a town park in Calverton for a community recreation complex, and the YMCA could fill that role. The town has eight acres of land there that it could make available just east of the existing softball fields and east of some proposed soccer fields, he said.

“We’re encouraged by this positive signal from the town,” Mr. Trinklein said. Peconic YMCA is “willing to pursue all options” and may end up going with whichever plan can be implemented fastest, he said.

“We’ll get there,” Mr. Van de Wetering said. “We are extremely patient.”

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This post was originally published Oct. 19, 2010