Editorial: Any room for the little guy at EPCAL?

Riverhead Town, National Aeronautics, EPCAL, model airplane, motorsports
PARAGLIDING CLUB COURTESY PHOTO | A paraglider in action over Long Island near Rocky Point.

It’s amazing how a sizable amount of cash can change the game of government.

Take Riverhead Town land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. No matter what’s been proposed for EPCAL over the past three years — whether drag racing, an autocross competition, a space for remote control airplane enthusiasts or a paragliding school, among other schemes — town officials have proven quite adept at coming up with reasons to say no.

But a proposal to store tens of thousands of disabled and petro-laden cars at the property for six months at $1 million? No problem! A resolution is signed Thursday and the cars arrive Monday.

In fact, this particular arrangement seems to be a great deal for the town. The cars, disabled by floodwaters, don’t appear to be mangled or dripping fluids. And, despite stormwater runoff concerns, the last time we looked there were cars driving everywhere on Long Island — on highways, driveways, bridges and parks. It’s hard to imagine these immobilized vehicles doing any real damage.

What’s remarkable is that this all happened with such speed and ease — despite what Supervisor Sean Walter says about broad interpretations of his executive order  — especially after seeing so many hobbyist groups have their dreams dashed at Town Hall.

Last year it was the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which flies model airplanes, that wanted to use the property for about $20,000 a year. Town officials at that time suspected the DEC would have qualms about the planes’ interfering with birds. The group eventually backed out because of “environmental concerns,” Councilman John Dunleavy later lamented.

In 2010 there was a pitch to hold an autocross meet at the property, at which car owners would test their skills against one another. Mr. Walter said at the time that such an event could ruffle feathers at the DEC, but added, “I’m going to make some phone calls to see if this is going to jam us up.” The group was never heard from again.

And it’s hard to picture a lower-impact event than the para-gliding school proposed for the site. In August, after a pitch from Long Island Paragliding Club members, Mr. Walter responded that the school “doesn’t seem like a bad idea but we need to get our lead agency status from the state Department of Environmental Conservation first. We don’t want to be running afoul of any regulations.”

When asked this week about those comments in relation to the car-storing agreement, Mr. Walter said the DEC “didn’t seem to have a problem” with the car storage.

None of this seems to add up.

But you know what does add up? Big money, like $1 million. Maybe there should be a sign outside EPCAL: Little guys need not apply.