Petition submitted opposing flyboarding; board to hone regs

The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

As Riverhead Town Board members continue to work on regulations which would permit flyboarding in local waters, a group of local residents have filed a petition with the town, asking its leaders to do the exact opposite.

Over 30 residents submitted a petition in town hall on Monday, “asking the Town of Riverhead Board to cease all flyboarding activities in Treasure Cove and the connecting River/Estuary.”

On Tuesday, a split board opted to table regulations drawn up to regulate the activity, which involves being thrust into the air by water-propelled jetpacks that are attached to people’s feet and powered by a jet ski. Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman George Gabrielsen voted against tabling the measure, while a majority of members said it hopes to hone the legislation to permit it closer to the mouth of the Peconic River and away from where it was done over the summer, near Treasure Cove.

“I think we’re so close to getting this,” said Councilman Jim Wooten. “It can be done, and it can be done right.”

The issue has been talked about on Howell Avenue since August, by which point the town had already issued over 20 summonses to Flyboard LI, a business run by Jim Bissett IV, the son of Long Island Aquarium co-founder Jim Bissett III. Over the next few months, the board discussed the issue further, at one point holding a public hearing on one version of legislation which would have mandated that the activity take place at least 500 feet from shore.

A new version of the legislation reduces that setback to 300 feet, also adding safety measures such as the presence of a boat nearby in the case of an emergency, as well as “international orange” coloring on equipment. Mr. Wooten and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said they want some more time to finalize legislation, especially considering the activity won’t be taking place for a few months due to cold weather.

“This town is so reactive in throwing laws together,” he said. “And then we have 9,000 amendments over the next 10 years because we didn’t capture everything we wanted to capture.”

While much of the pushback on flyboarding has come from residents in the Riverside Drive area, Mr. Wooten said he believes the town can regulate the activity so it’s nowhere near there.

However Kevin McCallister, president and founder of Defend H20, told the board that the activity is inappropriate anywhere “within the confines of Riverhead town.”

He pointed to a lack of oxygen in water that would be created from the jet skis that power the flyboarding activity. The legislation itself notes, “The use of a water jet powered JetPack Vessels within the Peconic River corridor, will without question cause the suspension of the highly enriched organic sediments.”

Due to setback regulations, however, the regulations state that: “a trained boat operator will make every effort to avoid this from happening by staying within the designated deeper water navigation channels.”

Nonetheless, Mr. McCallister said that a reduction in local waters due to the lack of oxygen could be “kickstarting additional fish kills.”

The petition filed in town hall is accompanied by a narrative written by New York State’s Division of Coastal Resources, which designated the Peconic River a ‘significant coastal fish and wildlife habitat.’ There are over 100 such habitats on Long Island.

The issue brought one speaker, 17-year-old Riverside Driver resident and McGann-Mercy senior Liz Parillo, virtually to the point of tears.

“It’s just very frustrating,” she said.