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Future of EPCAL land up to Town Board

03/21/2018 6:00 AM |

The Riverhead Town Board is a step closer to deciding whether Calverton Aviation & Technology is qualified and eligible to carry out its development plans for the Enterprise Park at Calverton, as it officially closed the public hearing Monday after a nearly five-hour session.

The board did, however, hold the hearing open until Friday, April 6, for written comments.

Calverton Aviation & Technology is proposing to buy more than 1,600 acres of town-owned land at EPCAL for $40 million, but must first demonstrate that it has the finances and ability to carry out its development plans for the site. This is required because the land is part of an urban development area.

“I think there were a lot of good questions asked today, but I think there are still some outstanding issues that they need to submit information on, and then, hopefully, we can make a decision on whether they’re qualified and eligible,” Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said after the hearing.

“I think they need to submit the rest of their documentation.”

Throughout the hearing, Ms. Jens-Smith said the town had repeatedly asked to see an operating agreement between Triple Five Real Estate I and Luminati Aerospace, the two principals of CAT, but has yet to receive that information.

Nader Ghermezian, chairman of Triple Five, said repeatedly that Luminati and its controversial founder, Daniel Preston, have no vote in the decision-making for CAT, although Mr. Preston owns 25 percent of the company.

Mr. Preston, who was not present, even submitted a letter confirming that CAT will be managed and controlled solely by Triple Five and that “Preston and Luminati do not have any control, approval or consent rights with respect to any of the business, operations or decisions taken by CAT.”

But Ms. Jens-Smith said that’s not an operating agreement.

CAT also did not have a specific development plan for the site, but instead presented a “vision” for the site, along with letters and presentations from companies that expressed interested in locating on their property at EPCAL.

Mr. Ghermezian said they have to analyze what type of uses will fit best at EPCAL before developing a specific plan.

CAT’s “vision” for the site was presented by Stephen Rodgers of Utah, whom they’ve retained.
Mr. Rodgers has more than 30 years’ experience in the advanced materials and composites industry. He has worked in manufacturing research and development for Boeing Defense and Space Group and was a producibility engineer for Lockheed Missiles and Space Company and an experimental plastics fabricator for Boeing Aerospace, among other jobs. He also was a 2011 recipient of the Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology. His full résumé is posted on the town’s website.

Mr. Rodgers said that aviation and aerospace industries are projected to grow at a tremendous rate in the next two decades, with unmanned vehicles also anticipated to increase “exponentially.”

“Creating an environment for high-technology business creates high-paying jobs,” he said.

EPCAL offers unique advantages that other locations don’t, such as long runways, an aviation infrastructure, open space and proximity to the New York metro area, Mr. Rodgers said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio pointed out that passenger airlines are not permitted at the site, in accordance with the agreement of sale between the town and CAT.

“We understand,” said Stuart Bienenstock, Triple Five’s director of business development.

One obstacle for CAT is the fact that the use agreement for the active runway at EPCAL was made between the town and Mr. Preston, not CAT.

The runway agreement would be assigned to CAT or forfeited, Mr. Bienenstock said. The proposed purchase would include both runways, so Mr. Preston could forfeit whatever runway rights he has to CAT, according to Mr. Bienenstock. 

“I don’t know if he has the ability to transfer it,” Ms. Jens-Smith said.

While Triple Five has built some of the world’s largest shopping malls — including the Mall of America in Minnesota, the West Edmonton Mall in Canada and the under-construction American Dream Mall in the New Jersey Meadowlands — they said they will not build a shopping mall or residences at EPCAL.

Asked for an example of an industrial park Triple Five has developed, Mr. Bienenstock said they built McCarran Sunset Business Park in Las Vegas about 15 years ago. He also said they will provide the town with other industrial projects in a written submission.

Seven companies have signed letters of interest in coming to EPCAL, according to CAT.

One of these is Launcher, whose founder and CEO, Max Haot, spoke Monday.

Launcher sent a letter to Triple Five, which was forwarded to the town, confirming its interest in a long-term lease at EPCAL to enable the company to develop a research and engine testing facility there.

“Launcher is a start-up on a 10-year journey to deliver small satellites to orbit,” Mr. Haot wrote. It has been using EPCAL as a test site over the past six months, he said, to develop “miniaturized” satellites.

“We are designing a launch vehicle capable of delivering 300 Kg [661 pounds] of satellite payload to low earth orbit,” Mr. Haot wrote in the letter.

Launcher is also developing and test firing “a 3D-printed liquid propellant rocket engine, 500 pound-force of thrust, fueled with liquid oxygen and kerosene,” the letter said.

Within the next three years, they will be developing a larger flight engine that they hope will be transported to and test launched at a NASA-approved spaceport.

Also confirming interest in EPCAL was Dr. Jesse Powell of Ridge, son of James Powell, who, along with the late Gordon Danby of Wading River, invented Maglev technology at Brookhaven Lab.

Maglev is a type of train that runs on superconductive magnets.

Jesse Powell is president of Maglev Strategies LLC, which hopes to establish a National Maglev Research Center and test track at EPCAL.

Although it was invented on Long Island, Maglev has never been used in America, but has been used extensively in Japan and China, Dr. Powell said.

Maglev trains can travel 350 mph and are capable of transporting passengers or freight. Dr. Powell thinks freight is a more profitable use for the trains.

The town has compiled all of the information it’s received from CAT, including letters of interest, on its website.

Town Board members had other questions for Triple Five, specifically about aviation.

Ms. Giglio asked if CAT planned to accept Federal Aviation Administration funding. She warned that doing so could mean CAT will be required to allow passenger helicopters to land there, which is what happened in East Hampton, where helicopter noise is a problem, she said.

CAT was also asked if it will seek incentives from the town, such as Industrial Development Agency tax breaks.

Nader Ghermezian said they will seek whatever is legally available to them.

Ms. Giglio also asked if they would contribute anything to the community, such as parkland or fields. (She had gone into New York City last week to meet with CAT principals about their EPCAL plans and acknowledged doing so on her Friday radio spot on WRIV.)

Mr. Ghermezian said that two artificial turf fields would cost $2 million and lights for those fields would cost about $500,000.

“In order to get unanimous approval, I will give you $2.5 million,” Mr. Ghermezian said.

Robert Skinner of Jamesport voiced opposition to the plan.

“I don’t know how we got from Daniel Preston and his high-altitude solar vehicles to what we’re hearing now,” he said, adding that he fears the FAA will want to allow passenger aircraft or cargo freight if it provides any funding.

Many residents came here for the rural neighborhoods, the agriculture and the quiet, Mr. Skinner said.

Mr. Preston originally planned to pay $40 million in cash for the EPCAL property, and had a confidential partner that former Supervisor Sean Walter identified as Facebook only after the deal fell apart.

It was later discovered that Mr. Preston was facing many lawsuits from prior business partners.

Mr. Bienenstock said CAT will not do this project without Mr. Preston.

Mr. Ghermezian said last week that Mr. Preston holds more than 100 patents, which could be valuable.

Mr. Bienenstock said they will not allow commercial passenger flights but are still studying what the best uses of the runway might be. He was unsure if they would need FAA funding.

“I want to preserve the character of Calverton,” Craig Dahlgren of Calverton told CAT. “I don’t need your help and I don’t want your help.”

Photo caption: Nader Ghermezian (left) and Stuart Bienenstock of CAT at Monday’s “qualified and eligible sponsor” hearing before the Riverhead Town Board. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

(Credit: Tim Gannon)

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