Editorial: On EPCAL, where do we come from here?

02/09/2018 6:01 AM |

The long and winding road that is Riverhead’s effort to find a buyer for 1,600 acres of town-owned land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton continues. The latest chapter in this saga is the filing of a lawsuit by a solar power company that has offered to pay more than $40 million for those acres.

So far, the effort has produced many proposals that have died on the vine. They include the following:

• In 1993, the Long Island Regional Planning Council suggested building an international air cargo jetport at EPCAL.

• In 1999, Donald Trump offered to purchase 2,900 acres at EPCAL for $55 million to build a NASCAR racetrack.

• In 2001, a company called Calverton Motor Sports sought to buy 250 acres for $6.2 million to build an auto racetrack. That same year, the Riverhead School District discussed the possibility of building a new high school at EPCAL.

• In 2007, Riverhead Resorts and RexCorp both offered to buy 755 acres at EPCAL and engaged in a public bidding war for the property. With a proposal to build an indoor ski mountain and eight themed resorts at a net gain to the town of $155 million, Riverhead Resorts won the battle, but ultimately lost the war.

The deal fell apart in 2011 but, in a lucky development for a cash-starved town government, Riverhead Resorts paid $8 million for numerous contract extensions. For its part, RexCorp had offered $152.5 million to build a racing-themed family entertainment complex.

• Two proposals centered on horses came and went. In 2010, a Florida group called Palm Beach Polo offered $33.58 million for 1,600 acres, and in 2013, an Argentine group called International Polo Organization offered $40 million to buy 500 acres for an equestrian village.

Which brings us up to the latest proposal, a $40 million-plus offer from sPower to buy over 1,600 acres for a solar energy farm. The firm’s attorney, Jason Stern, told the Town Board the amount would be higher than the $40 million a joint venture between Luminati and its proposed new partners is offering.

That sounds very tempting. But Riverhead’s new supervisor, Laura Jens-Smith, said the town cannot consider the solar offer, in spite of its higher price tag. This is because the previous town board signed a letter of intent to sell the land to Luminati.

Her hands tied, Ms. Jens-Smith said the Town Board must now follow through with the qualified and eligible sponsor hearing for Luminati to determine whether the company and its partners have the finances and ability to execute its plans at the site.

That position spurred sPower to file a lawsuit against the town for not allowing them to make an offer. The firm wants a court to declare the letter of intent with the town to be invalid.

From Donald Trump’s race cars nearly 20 years ago, to a polo facility and an indoor ski mountain, the proposals have come and gone, and now the town seems unable to make a deal with a higher bidder because of the actions of a previous administration.

For Ms. Jens-Smith, the future of the town-owned land at EPCAL, and a sale’s impact on the town’s finances, is the centerpiece of her new administration. She will have to plot her own course through the minefield, backed up by her own trusted advisers with knowledge of all the potential pitfalls that could befall the town, to find a way for the town to come out ahead for this extraordinary piece of open space.

Whether the U.S. Navy’s transfer of this property, where Grumman once built jets, was an incredible gift to the town or an albatross around its neck remains to be seen.

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