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Citing ‘anti-business environment,’ United Riverhead Terminal withdraws biofuel proposal

United Riverhead Terminal is withdrawing its proposal to build a 28-by-45-foot concrete pad and six new 18,000-gallon tanks for storing biofuel at its Northville facility, according to URT president John Catsimatidis.

The move comes in the wake of opposition from neighboring residents.

“We do not like the anti-business environment in Riverhead,” Mr. Catsimatidis said in an interview Friday.

He said the decision might lead to layoffs at the URT facility in Northville.

The company says it is required by a recent state law to mix biofuel with home heating oil at a minimum of 5%, and up to 20%. Anything between 6% and 20% qualifies for state tax credits.

The proposal required a special permit from the Town Board because the current zoning of the property is residential, but the Northville plant was built before zoning was enacted.

The town code permits expansion of a “pre-existing, non-conforming” use with a special permit. Site plan approval from the town Planning Board also was needed.

The URT proposal faced opposition from residents at recent Town Board meetings. They raised concerns about traffic impacts from the project, and the Town Board tabled a resolution to grant special permit approval at its Feb. 20 meeting.

That resolution has not reappeared on subsequent Town Board agendas.

Home heating oil is brought to the Northville site by ships that dock at URT’s offshore platform in Long Island Sound. That oil currently arrives pre-blended with 5% biofuel, a non-combustible organic vegetable additive, according to Vic Prusinowski, a representative for URT.

He said URT currently sends empty trucks from its Calverton facility, called United Metro Energy, to the Northville facility, where biofuel is pre-blended with home heating oil, and then trucked back to its United Metro Energy facility at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

The mixed fuel at Calverton is sold to customers on the south shore and in eastern Brookhaven Town, he said.

Mr. Catsimatidis said the changes are only needed to comply with a new state law.

“The last time I looked, Riverhead was part of New York State, and we have to come into compliance with New York State environmental rules,” he said Friday.

“We’ve been applying since last year and we are getting very annoyed. Every time we think we’re close to getting the permit, we get new requirements related to the project from the town.”

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said she received a letter from URT withdrawing the application, although it didn’t give any explanation as to why.

When told of Mr. Catsimatidis’ comment that the town was stalling the project, she said, “this is a state-mandated requirement that began in July. They only put their application in a couple months prior to that. So they finally filed a very late application for something that they knew needed to be filed with the state beginning in July.”

Mr. Catsimatidis compared the situation to Amazon withdrawing its proposed headquarters in New York City, which he blamed freshman Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Queens.

He said URT has to come into environmental compliance in New York State and that they are paying extra money to buy the home heating oil pre-blended with biofuel, versus blending it themselves.

“Our request was very little,” Mr. Catsimatidis said. “We have 5 million barrels of storage in Riverhead. We asked for separate storage tanks for the biofuel of 120,000 gallons, which is .001 of the total capacity here, and all we’ve gotten is headaches and the town finding new ways to block us.”

He said United Riverhead Terminal is the second-largest taxpayer in Riverhead Town.

“All we wanted to do was to comply with New York State law. That’s all we wanted,” he said.

Mr. Catsimatidis wouldn’t comment on what his company’s next step would be.

Ms. Jens-Smith said the Feb. 20 resolution to grant special permit approval was withdrawn by Councilman Tim Hubbard because it included a segment saying the town would explore condemning a portion of the northwest corner of the intersection of Sound Avenue and Pennys Road in order to improve traffic flow. The supervisor said the property owner, Eve Kaplan, had sent a letter saying she was not in support of that.

Ms. Jens-Smith said the town and URT were working to find alternatives to mitigate traffic problems at that intersection, which large trucks often turn into and oncoming traffic lane to get out, and that URT had indicated it would pay for whatever method the town chose.

Since then, “there was no further conversation with them,” she said. “Instead, they withdrew their application.”

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