Guest Spot: Here’s a better way for us to handle EPCAL

Two major contracts at the Enterprise Park at Calverton were terminated during Sean Walter’s term as supervisor, the $18 million Rechler Industrial Park contract and the $155 million Riverhead Resorts contract.

When Mr. Walter terminated the Rechler contract, he said he was “happy” about what he called good news.

Most residents of Riverhead were not happy nor did they consider the demise of this contract good news.

Gregg Rechler, the most experienced and best financed developer of industrial property on Long Island, gave back what Mr. Walter was fond of calling “The Great Giveaway.” By doing so he dashed Riverhead’s hopes of an $18 million increase to our reserve fund, a larger tax base and thousands of new jobs.

Tellingly, the Rechler group blamed the contract termination on “the Town Board’s inability to understand economic fundamentals and its unwillingness to adapt to the changing economic landscape.” Rechler added: “The board had an opportunity to ensure the future of a more vibrant Riverhead. Unfortunately, the Town Board’s inability to understand the economic fundamentals of a successful project forced us to withdraw.”

Next, Mr. Walter terminated the Riverhead Resorts contract. Ever since, he has refused to consider purchase offers at EPCAL including those proposing an Indian casino and a polo and equestrian center. According to Mr. Walter, all offers conflict with “his plan.”  The property is no longer for sale.  Exactly what is Mr. Walter’s plan?

Mr. Walter’s plan is for the town to pay to survey the land, subdivide it into small lots, obtain all town, state, county and federal approvals, and then pay to build roads and install utilities and other improvements. He’s going to develop EPCAL at taxpayer expense.

In the midst of a recession, at a time when Long Island’s best financed industrial developer has declined to move forward, Mr. Walter, with no relevant experience, no clear plan, and using our tax dollars, is pushing Riverhead to be the developer of property that Long Island’s most experienced developer walked away from.

Mr. Walter promised in his inaugural address that he “would not call for another study at EPCAL.” His “plan” has already cost taxpayers more than half a million dollars for more unnecessary EPCAL studies. He is pushing to spend millions more to subdivide and improve the site, tasks typically paid for by developers. Under Mr. Walter’s plan, EPCAL will be a financial drain on taxpayers for years to come, rather than the source of immediate tax relief that it could be.

Receiving $8 million dollars at EPCAL in non-refundable deposits which happened during my administration is preferable to spending millions of tax dollars at EPCAL as is happening during Mr. Walter’s administration. Selling at market value is preferable to holding EPCAL off the tax rolls indefinitely.

The town must focus on getting EPCAL sold and back on the tax rolls so it can expand our tax base and diminish our tax burden.
The supervisor and Town Board should not use our tax dollars to play real estate developer. Town Boards are untrained and ill suited to be developers. Riverhead Town Board’s past performance trying to be a developer (e.g. at the Suffolk Theater) proved unfortunate and expensive for the taxpayers.

All that’s assured by Mr. Walter’s plan is enormous risk and excessive expense for the taxpayer.

The better way for Riverhead is to sell the property at market value, get it back on the tax rolls, and leave its development to experienced private developers.

Mr. Cardinale is a former Riverhead supervisor who is running for his old post as a Democrat.