Guest Column: Keeping watch on that fine EPCAL land

The Riverhead Town Board has made a momentous and apparently irreversible decision to sell 1,600 acres of EPCAL land at a giveaway price to Calverton Aviation & Technology, completely controlled by the controversial Ghermezian family. The Coalition Against EPCAL Housing opposed that action on behalf of Riverhead’s neighborhood associations and environmental organizations.

We appreciate that the Town Board, members of the coalition and an awakened public devoted many hours to serious consideration of this issue. However, we remain concerned that an irregular process by a majority of the previous and current board led to a deeply flawed and wrongly accepted contract.

Because the initial goal of the coalition to bar housing appears to have been met, we propose creation of a broader EPCAL Watch based on the challenging local governance experience of the past two years. We invite the participation and support of all organizations and individuals that believe the Ghermezian family must be required to follow through on their stated intentions. They are obligated to use the town’s land in a way that contributes to economic development and to the well-being of the whole community.

We will closely monitor and speak and act publicly to ensure that:

• housing remains prohibited for immediate and long-term use.

• the Department of Environmental Conservation fulfills its responsibility to preserve the 1,000 acres of undevelopable land and the Town Board requires they remain accessible to the community as privately owned public space.

• economic development is confirmed as the top priority for usable land and in a timely fashion brings well-paid union jobs in aerospace, science and technology.

• the land is not resold (in its entirety or broken into parcels) or repurposed for warehouses, an entertainment/commercial mall or gambling for short-term gain.

• the Town Board resists pressure to provide public resources like bonding authority and tax abatement for the profit of a private entity.

• the Town Board rejects all efforts to remove EPCAL from dark-sky compliance. (Riverhead’s light pollution regulations would be problematic for an entertainment/commercial mall or a gambling casino but not for development of aerospace, science and technology.)

• new IRS Opportunity Zone regulations affecting EPCAL really perform as “designed to spur economic development” and do not become primarily a vehicle for “providing tax benefits to investors.”

• political contributions do not compromise future Town Board decisions related to EPCAL.

We ask the supervisor to create a broadly representative Citizens’ Commission responsible for independent oversight of EPCAL with regard to sales contract implementation, economic development and environmental protection. The commission should supplement, not supplant, the responsibility of the Town Board and the Community Development Agency. If the commission finds that the Ghermezians are not proceeding in good faith, it should recommend to the board and the CDA appropriate measures to accomplish that or to void the sale (as suggested by a board member in support of the contract).

Riverhead voters will choose a supervisor and two Town Board members in November 2019. The community will judge whether incumbents acted responsibly and wisely on the sale of EPCAL and compare how they and their challengers envision its future development. Board decisions made in the next several months related to the sale will influence voters, especially if the Ghermezians pressure the town for further concessions.

Mr. Farr represents Coalition Against EPCAL Housing, Mr. DeLuca represents Group for the East End, Mr. Amper represents Long Island Pine Barrens Society and Mr. Haubner represents North Fork Environmental Council.