‘Sonic booms’ at recycling plant spur opposition in town hall

Richard Luzzi, a resident of Riverhaven mobile home park, addresses Thursday night's Riverhead Planning Board meeting. (Credit John Stefans)
Richard Luzzi, a resident of Riverhaven mobile home park, addresses Thursday night’s Riverhead Planning Board meeting. (Credit John Stefans)

They asked for input, and they sure got it.

The Riverhead Town Planning Board heard emotional – at times angry – testimony last week from a group of residents whose mobile home park abuts the facilities of Gershow Recycling, which operates on a 3.5-acre property on Hubbard Avenue that for more than six decades was the home of Fred J. Gallo Used Auto Parts.

A public hearing was held on Thursday night to discuss an amended site plan Gershow was required to submit to the town’s planning department. The amended plan came after the town discovered that a number of improvements the company has made on the property had not been included in the original site plan that Gershow filed in the summer of 2012, just after purchasing the Gallo property.

But the objections raised by residents of Riverhaven — the name of the nearby mobile home park — had little to do with the technicalities of the amended site plan. Instead, their criticism focused on the noise and ground vibrations that they said the new operation was creating every day – something, they insisted, that had not occurred when Gallo owned the site.

One homeowner, Richard Luzzi, said “the noise goes from very loud to sonic booms” and pointed to a broken water main at Riverhaven this winter that he suspects resulted from the vibrations. He said he couldn’t be sure of the cause, but noted that there had never before been water main cracks during the 10 years he lived in the park.

Mr. Luzzi also said that a real estate agent estimated recently that, as a direct result of the noise and vibrations, Mr. Luzzi’s home had declined in market value by $90,000. He said the owners of another home in the park had wanted to sell their home but ultimately took it off the market because no one showed any interest in buying the property.

He described the transition from Gallo to Gershow as being akin to “shoving a battleship in a shoe box.”

Watch a video of the facility below:

Gershow’s outside attorney, Peter Danowski, said that the company was doing everything in its power to mitigate whatever noise problem existed. This, he said, included spending nearly $400,000 to purchase a new crane that had rubber treads instead of metal treads to cut down on the noise.

He also said that, as stated in its amended site plan, Gershow would like to install metal shipping containers filled with concrete blocks along its border to lessen the noise impact on Riverhaven residents. Two of these containers, he said, are already in place, but the plan is to have them run along the entire property line separating Gershow from Riverhaven.

He said that the company had engaged noise consultants who reported to Gershow that the containers “will muffle whatever perceived noise problem there is.” But, he added, “I need permission. I don’t want to put them up without the town’s permission.”

Asked after the meeting whether Gershow’s operation differed markedly from what Gallo had being doing on the site, Mr. Danowski said, “Gershow has the exact same licensing use as Gallo had.

“A junkyard is a junkyard,” he said. “You can say that it’s a different operation, but with Gallo there were very serious environmental issues because he had all his cars on parked on dirt leaking oil. Gershow doesn’t have that.”

Mr. Danowski said further that, for his client, the real question is what they can do to address the noise issue, which is what they’re doing. But, he added, “If you say the only thing we can do is move out of town, that’s not going to happen, and that shouldn’t happen. And it shouldn’t happen to anybody in business.”

Since Riverhaven is an over-55 community, several residents accused the town of not caring about senior citizens.

“’Oh, they’re old. They’ll get over it,’” Virginia Lang said in describing the attitude of town officials. “Why were we never considered?” she asked. “How would you feel if you were in our situation? Have a little compassion.”

Another resident, Marie Gerdis, said, “I feel at times like tearing my hair out. With warmer weather coming, I’ll still have to keep my windows closed. I feel locked in my house, and that’s not how I was planning to spend my retirement.”

So what’s next?

According to Planning Board chairman Dick O’Dea, the board can either approve the amended site plan or return it to Gershow, requiring the company to make changes. This, he said, might include requiring Gershow to undertake a more thorough noise analysis.

The board’s vice chairman, Joseph Baier, added, “We could also require them to put up a wall – a real wall.”

Planning Board member Stanley Carey said, “If we find that there is a violation of town noise codes, they should be shut down.”

At the end of the meeting, the Planning Board moved to leave open the public comment period for another ten days to accept written testimony and urged the audience to write letters.