Riverhead Town should consider ceding some jurisdiction of the town-owned Enterprise Park at Calverton to a state authority, according to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, because the current combination of state, county and town regulations, combined with pressure from environmental and civic organizations, is chasing businesses away.
“The biggest problem for us is, you’re looking at a two-year supervisor and four-year council members, and short of a public authority being established by New York State, EPCAL is never getting out of its own way,” Mr. Walter said Thursday during a Town Board visit to Fort Devens in Massachusetts.
Along with Mr. Walter, fellow Town
Board members Jodi Giglio, John Dunleavy and Jim Wooten, who drove, made the bus trip to Devens, along with deputy supervisor Jill Lewis, Riverhead Business Improvement District board member Tony Coates and three members of the media.
The trip came shortly after a defense contractor who had been considering moving to EPCAL pulled out over fears of excessive environmental regulations there, according to Mr. Walter.
Fort Devens, like the Calverton park, which for decades hosted a military facility operating by the Grumman Corporation, is a former military base that was turned over to local government in 1996. But unlike EPCAL, Fort Devens is thriving, having attracted large companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, American Superconductor, Evergreen Solar, and Northrup Grumman, with about 3,500 new jobs, more than when it was a military base.
Devens guarantees a 75-day permitting review process, officials there said.
But there are some big differences.
In Devens, the 10,000-acre base was spread over parts of four towns, and a state authority called the Devens Enterprise Commission was created to regulate its development. The commission includes representatives from the four towns, as well as from the state. Devens also is owned by another state authority, Mass Development, which is considered an economic development agency for the state, according to Mica Brewer of Mass Development.
In addition, when the property was being turned over to Mass Development, the state authorized a $200 million bond to cover infrastructure costs. While EPCAL was given to Riverhead for $1, the state or federal governments never committed any money to infrastructure improvement, leaving that up to the town or to private developers. The roads in EPCAL are still largely the same as they were when the Grumman Corporation assembled F-14 fighter jets there.
Devens still has a military presence, as there is an U.S. Army and Marine Corps reserve command on site.
It also plays host to some 300 housing units, something not currently permitted in EPCAL.
Mr. Walter said he realizes creating an authority at EPCAL would be controversial, but he feels nothing will ever happen there under the current system.
“If I can get the state Legislature to come down and create an authority for this, if the board so chose to do this, the authority would encompass your county health department, your DEC, do it all,” he said Thursday. “We would still own the property, we’d sell it, we’d have to use a portion of the proceeds of the sale to fund the authority, but I think that’s kind of the key.
“I’m battling with one of our more famous environmentalists right now. You don’t know as an elected official if you’re going to be there in two years, but an authority is always going to be there.”
He said there are people in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that don’t want to see anything developed at EPCAL outside of the original 500 acre industrial core.
“They want it all preserved,” Mr. Walter said. “I don’t want to say the inmates are running the asylum at the DEC, but that’s what’s happening.”