Residents oppose holding hearings on battery storage, digesters before comprehensive plan is finalized

At its meeting Tuesday, the Riverhead Town Board planned to schedule public hearings to codify anaerobic digesters and battery energy storage systems.

But residents who spoke that evening wondered why the board would hold such hearings before finalizing the town’s comprehensive plan update or voting on a pending industrial development moratorium in Calverton.

Neither digesters nor battery storage facilities is specifically addressed by current zoning — and neither use is specifically permitted or prohibited in the code. But recent proposals for both uses are prompting the town to develop related guidelines and regulations and identify locations where they are and are not permitted.

Resolutions were proposed Tuesday to schedule hearings on both uses for Tuesday, Dec. 20, at 2 p.m. But several speakers said the town would be jumping the gun by holding those hearings.

Former town supervisor Laura Jens-Smith was the first speaker to urge the board to table the two resolutions “I think all of you are well aware that the community has been asking for a moratorium and to have the zoning changes roll into a comprehensive plan,” she said. “I urge you to table these resolutions and move forward with the moratorium that you’ve been putting forward and that the community has been asking for and I hope that you will consider that when you’re voting.”

Also speaking was Adam Stanek of Hexagon Energy, who said he is partnering with local landowners Steven Tuthill and Bob Dunkirk of Mill Road Properties on a battery energy storage proposal at 87 Mill Road in Calverton.

“There’s over 15,000 parcels in Riverhead Town, and of those, under the proposed Battery Energy Storage code, only 19 parcels would qualify for a battery energy storage system … and also be close enough to electric infrastructure to put a project on there for a tier-two battery system,” he said.

Mr. Tuthill, whose family owns the proposed site, would like to redevelop the property for “a higher and better use,” Mr. Stanek said — specifically a battery energy storage system. But, he added, that can’t be done under current zoning.

The proposed code already allows batteries on residential parcels but there are no such systems that would qualify for battery storage because none are within a 1,000 feet of a substation, Mr. Stanek said.

Although the proposed code allows batter energy storage on residential parcels, there are none that would qualify for the type of facility under consideration because none is within 1,000 feet of a substation, Mr. Stanek said.

If the code were to extend that requirement to 2,500 feet from a substation, he said, “that would help.”

The only residential properties that would qualify would be in the RA-80 two-acre zone, and mostly located along the Sound , Mr. Stanek said.

“We’re been here for five meetings and this room is still filled with people from Baiting Hollow and Calverton,” said Toqui Terchun, president of the Greater Calverton Civic Association. “My voice quavers and my lips tremble because of the anger the people are feeling and I am carrying it for this board.”

“You all are ignoring the public, the people you represent,” said Kathy Mc-Graw of Northville. “You are attempting to cram through code changes concerning the very things you’ve been discussing.”

Ms. McGraw was critical of battery systems. “They are not allowed in Riverhead, they are not benign, and they can be extremely dangerous fire hazards,” she said, adding, “And no one will be paying attention to a hearing on Dec. 20, five days from Christmas.”

Ms. McGraw said she felt the two proponents of the zone change, Councilman Bob Kern and Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, “were trying to pull a fast one by bypassing the moratorium discussion and making piecemeal code changes on matters that need in-depth study and inclusion in the

comp plan update.”

“It is crystal clear you are ignoring us,” she said, “[and] you have no intention of completing the comp plan.”

Catherine Wheeler of Calverton read parts of an article called “Emerging Hazards of Battery Energy Storage System fires,” published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The playmaking that’s going on here never favors a win for the people,” said former councilwoman Barbara Blass. “It’s time we challenge your actions.”

She then called for the board to table the two resolutions seeking hearings.

Councilman Tim Hubbard cast the only “no” vote on setting the hearings on the BESS and the anaerobic digesters.

He said they “need to be reviewed and worked on through the comprehensive plan,” he said. “We’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the comprehensive plan done.”

Mr. Hubbard said, “I think we’ve already heard from the public.”

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said a public hearing is held in order to get public information.

She voted yes.