Editorial: Right reaction to Gershow, but was it too late?

Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead town’s decision to authorize possible litigation against Gershow Recycling comes as welcome news to nearby residents, who have claimed that excess noise coming from the Hubbard Avenue plant is beyond reason. 

Often — too often, in fact — we hear stories of government letting constituents down. Whether it be a lack of services, overtaxing, quality of life issues or a bevy of other complaints, our elected leaders’ failures in serving their community — not their accomplishments or successes — receive the lion’s share of attention from the public, and the press.

So this newspaper was happy to see elected leaders responding to the collective voice of residents of the Riverhaven mobile home community. While the courts will ultimately decide what happens at 27 Hubbard Ave., at least Town Board members have taken the difficult step toward taking a business owner to task for something they believe is a clear violation of town code.

We do have to wonder, however, if this whole problem could have been avoided in the first place.

The devil is in the details, as they say, and a somewhat obscure legal mechanism called a “de minimis” exemption has allowed the recycling company to operate at the site in its current form. In 2012, after Gershow purchased the land from its previous owner, building and planning department officials approved such an exemption, stating, “the scope of the work is not intensive to the site and will grossly improve the existing site condition.”

The exemption was granted and Gershow has gone on to use the property as it does today. But “gross improvement” appears to be something of a stretch.

It’s important to note that Gershow owner Kevin Gershowitz and his wife contributed more than $1,400 to Councilman John Dunleavy’s campaign last May, and more than $700 to that of Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. Another $250 was donated to Supervisor Sean Walter in 2012. It’s good to see the trio still voting to allow the town attorney to bring the business to court, showing that money doesn’t always talk.

But greater scrutiny of the facility should have taken place much sooner. Now taxpayers may have to foot the bill for suing a company that probably shouldn’t have been operating there in the first place.