Featured Story

Solar moratorium is tabled by Riverhead Town Board; casino concerns aired

After receiving a number of comments and emails opposing the adoption of a 12-month moratorium on solar farms in Calverton, the Riverhead Town Board on Tuesday tabled a resolution to do so.

At the same meeting, the board reiterated its opposition to casino gambling in the town.

On the solar moratorium, Councilwoman Catherine Kent moved to table the resolution to a future meeting and suggested the board discuss it at a work session. Councilman Tim Hubbard suggested that it be made clearer that the moratorium would not apply to rooftop solar panels on homes and businesses, and would only apply to solar farms, issues several other speakers brought up as well.

Currently, there are five solar projects in Riverhead — all of them in Calverton. Three are already up and running and the other two — Nextera and sPower 2 — are still in the review phase. Because it is larger than 25 megawatts, sPower 2 is being reviewed by the state rather than the town.

Those two solar farm plans would be exempt from the proposed moratorium because the applications were filed before Jan. 1, 2020. All five solar projects in Riverhead are located or proposed for industrially zoned sod farms.

At a public hearing on the moratorium earlier this month, most speakers voiced concerns about allowing additional solar energy farms in Calverton. But the town received a letter this week signed by representatives of 23 organizations that oppose the moratorium.

They included Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Long Island Farm Bureau, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Long Island Federation of Labor, First Baptist Church of Riverhead, The Sierra Club and New York League of Conservation Voters.

These groups said the proposed moratorium “will only serve to jeopardize the ability of the Town of Riverhead, its businesses, workers and farmers, to benefit from this important economic opportunity.”

“We think it would set the town back and it would be at odds with the statewide mandates under the Climate Leadership and Protection Act and would negatively impact the town’s economy through job and revenue losses,” Ryan Madden of the Long Island Progressive Coalition said of the moratorium.

Mr. Madden said that as part of its nonprofit solar campaign, the LIPC has provided low-cost solar solutions to First Baptist Church and Grace Episcopal Church, both in Riverhead, saving them $11,600 and $15,000, respectively, on annual energy costs.

Former town councilwoman Barbara Blass said the proposed moratorium is “vague and ineffective.” She said the proposal fails to define a commercial solar energy production system and noted that the town adopted its solar farm regulations in 2014 without any comprehensive land use study.

The Town Board eventually voted 4-0 to table the moratorium proposal, with Councilman Frank Beyrodt recusing himself because of a conflict.

Calverton development increases

While several speakers have recently raised concerns about the proliferation of solar farms in Calverton, the Greater Calverton Civic Association is also concerned in general about the amount of development being proposed for their hamlet.

At Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, civic association president Toqui Terchun presented board members with a list of all the current development projects targeted for Calverton, and called for a moratorium on further industrial development of the hamlet.

In addition to the solar projects, Calverton development projects include Island Water Park’s revised plans, CMA Mine’s proposed lake and sand mine on the corner of Youngs and Obsorn avenues, Breezy Hill IV’s proposed construction and debris processing facility on Manor Lane and Middle Road and HK Venture’s proposed industrial complex on Route 25.

“We understand that the Town of Riverhead has committed to updating our master plan and this effort cannot come soon enough for our community,” Ms. Terchun wrote. “Our civic association would like to work with members of the Town Board to develop a vision for Riverhead, with a specific interest in our hamlets of Calverton and Baiting Hollow.

“We will not allow Calverton to become the dumping ground for industrial/commercial projects that are not wanted anywhere else,” she said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said Calverton could be the first area targeted in the town’s upcoming master plan update, the first update since 2003.

Mr. Hubbard said the comprehensive plan update will begin at Thursday’s Town Board work session, which will be held virtually.

“We will have no problem making Calverton a priority,” he said.

Board says no to Casino — again

Resident John McAuliff said he is still not convinced that a casino won’t end up being another large project in Calverton. Mr. McAuliff said Tuesday that he looked over the town’s contract for sale with Calverton Aviation and Technology, the company looking to buy 1,600 acres from the town at EPCAL for $40 million — along with the zoning at EPCAL and other documents — to determine if a casino could someday be permitted there.

His conclusion?

“It’s very clear in those documents that the door is wide open,” he said. “The language in contract says ‘the purchaser shall redevelop the property consistent with the uses permitted in the Planned Development zoning district and substantially consistent with the intended development plan except as otherwise approved by the applicable government body.’”

While CAT officials have said in the past that they don’t want to build a casino at EPCAL, the issue rose again with the news that the Shinnecock Indian Nation has signed an agreement with Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment and developer Tri-State Partners to build a casino at an as yet undetermined location.

Both CAT and town officials have said the primary uses of EPCAL will be technology and aviation.

Mr. McAuliff said the section of the town code listing permitted accessory uses at EPCAL “is fairly broad and includes all uses that promote economic development.” He said it’s an issue that will have to be addressed because there is nothing in the zoning or the contract that would prohibit casinos.

“I have no interest in having gambling there. There’s never been a discussion about that, and I think people are just trying to fit pieces together just to make it look like it could possibly happen there,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard.

The other four board members agreed and all said they have no interest in having a casino at EPCAL and are committed to trying to bring high-paying jobs to the area.

Meanwhile, on its website, Triple Five, the controlling partner in CAT, put out a call to native tribes in Canada and the U.S. offering to help them build casinos.

It read: “With a clear understanding of the connection our First Peoples of North America have to the land, and their strong desire to create economic wealth for their people, Triple Five will be offering the following opportunities to First Nations of Canada and the Native Tribes of America …”

Among the opportunities mentioned were “development of casinos, residential, commercial and industrial, on or off reservation.”