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Northville residents fear gasoline storage at tank facility

Northville residents have raised concerns once again about a proposal from United Riverhead Terminal, the company that owns the Northville tank farm on Sound Shore Road.

The latest proposal calls for construction of a 28-by-45-foot concrete pad and the installation of six 18,000-gallon tanks for storing biofuel. The plan is a response to a new state law that requires home heating oil sold in Nassau and Suffolk counties to contain at least 5 percent biodiesel.

In addition to biofuel, URT also anticipates blending biofuel with ultra-low sulfur diesel to create biodiesel for motor fuel. The biofuel produces lower emissions and is ecologically better, according to URT.

Residents packed a Riverhead Town Board public hearing Tuesday to express their concerns.

About four years ago, URT floated a plan to convert two storage tanks on its 286-acre property from home heating oil to gasoline storage. The plan, which also involved construction of a small tank to store ethanol to be blended into the gasoline, ran into heavy opposition from residents in the area and URT eventually dropped the plan.

Nelson Happy, URT’s vice president, said Tuesday that the company estimates blending about 3.5 million gallons of biofuel per year into home heating oil. He said that in 2017, the company sold 40.2 million gallons of home heating oil in 2017.

He said biodiesel cannot be blended with gasoline, but acknowledged the they might seek to store gasoline there in the future, saying they have a state permit to do so and that gasoline was stored there for years before URT bought the property about four years ago.

But gasoline is exactly what many of the residents who spoke at Tuesday’s hearing are afraid of.

“Our fear is that it will become gasoline storage,” said Linda Prizer, president of the Northville Beach Civic Association.

She said the oil tanks were built in 1955, before zoning, and that residents opposed it at the time and were promised by the town that there would be no expansion.

“Unfortunately now, as you heard from Mr. Happy, they are now discussing diesel and he’s not ruling out gasoline in the future. Once there’s a foot in the door, that door is going to be pushed way open,” Ms. Prizer said.

She said the civic association is not asking the Town Board to deny the application, just to postpone voting on it until their questions are answered.

She said biofuel mixing can take place at URT’s facility at Enterprise Park at Calverton in the meantime.

Mr. Happy said they have a July 1 deadline from the state by which to begin mixing biofuel with home heating oil. Ms. Prizer said URT had time to make the application but delayed doing so for a year.

She pointed out a number of mistakes in URT’s application, such as saying it was not in a coastal area and that hunting and fishing did not take place near the property. Mr. Happy acknowledged the mistakes and said they have submitted revised documents with corrections.

Kathy McGraw, vice president of the civic association, said she lived in Northville before the oil terminal was built.

“Needless to say, I wish it had never been built,” she said.

But for the most part, she said, residents have lived “fairly compatibly” with the tank farms, prior to URT buying them.

“For us, the line in the sand is gasoline at that facility,” Ms. McGraw said.

The use of biofuel in diesel is not mentioned in the application and wasn’t mentioned until Mr. Happy spoke Tuesday night, she said.

“We are completely blindsided by tonight,” she said, adding that biodiesel has nothing to do with the state requirement to blend 5 percent biofuel into heating oil.

“This is another example of how this facility is not straight up with the town or the people living around it,” Ms. McGraw said.

Speakers asked that if the Town Board approves the application, that approval contain conditions stating that the new tanks be used solely to comply with the state law mandating that 5 percent biofuel/heating oil blend.

Mr. Happy and Vic Prusinowski, a consultant for URT and former Riverhead councilman, said they would agree to that condition.

Mr. Happy said “I fully expect” that URT will seek to do gasoline storage in the future at the Northville site, but that it will have to come before the Town Board again with a new application in order to do so. Gasoline had been stored there for years before URT bought the property, he added, no one complained.

Because it’s an expansion of a use that existed before zoning and doesn’t comply with current zoning, the application requires special permit approval from the Town Board.

But some speakers argued that it’s a change in use, not an expansion.

However, according to town building and planning administrator Jeff Murphree, the town has already decided that it is an expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming use. 

The Town Board did not make a ruling Tuesday, but held the hearing open for written comments until Friday, June 29.

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Photo caption: Nelson Happy of URT speaks at a crowded Riverhead Town Board hearing Tuesday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)