CAT sues Riverhead over EPCAL contract

Calverton Aviation & Technology — the developer whose 2018 contract with the Town of Riverhead to purchase more than 1,600 acres of land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton was recently canceled by town officials — is suing the town in the hopes of resurrecting the $40 million deal.

Attorneys for CAT allege in the lawsuit that Riverhead Town officials engaged with the town’s Community Development and Industrial Development agencies in a “scheme to evade Riverhead’s binding contractual obligation to sell 1,643 acres at the EPCAL property in Calverton to CAT.”

The lawsuit was filed less than a week after the newly configured Riverhead Town Board passed a zoning change banning a cargo jetport, commercial flights or flight instruction at the park, which includes two runways, one 10,000 feet long and the other 7,000 feet. The zoning change also seeks to keep the two runways off aviation maps.

Fears of a cargo jetport being built at EPCAL were sparked during an IDA meeting in the fall of 2022, when a CAT engineer expressed  what residents interpreted as an admission that the site would ultimately operate as an air cargo hub.

At that hearing, CAT engineer Chris Robinson told the IDA, “I think the [vision] here is the aeronautic aspect — bringing packages which get brought into a logistics building, transferred onto tractor-trailer trucks … currently, that end of the logistics business is not handled on Long Island. This would be an incredible opportunity to bring that here.”

The local backlash from that hearing spurred the civic groups EPCAL Watch and the Heart of Riverhead Civic Association to organize and oppose the plan.

CAT officials have since insisted repeatedly and publicly that they never intended, nor have any future intention of building a cargo jetport. 

In October, the Riverhead IDA denied CAT’s request for tax incentives, citing a failure to adequately demonstrate “the viability of a financially successful project.” The previous Riverhead Town Board then moved swiftly to cancel the 2018 agreement.

According to Riverhead officials, the agreement with CAT gave the Town Board the authority to declare the original contract null and void based on the IDA’s denial.

The lawsuit alleges that the “words and actions” of town officials “celebrated the scheme to evade Riverhead’s contractual obligations to CAT, including when, moments after voting to nullify its contract with CAT, [then] Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar  gleefully took credit for the scheme, announcing that she personally negotiated an amendment to the contract in March of 2022 that allowed the Town Board to declare the contract null and void.” 

The lawsuit also alleges that newly elected Riverhead Town Supervisor Tim Hubbard discussed earlier this year how CAT’s application had “to get through the IDA first,” publicly predicting that “quite honestly, I’m not sure that’s going to happen.” Prior to his election as supervisor, Mr. Hubbard was a Town Board member.

“As detailed in CAT’s complaint, the only plausible inference to draw from Aguiar’s  and Hubbard’s remarks is that ‘the fix was in to kill the sale to CAT,’ ” the lawsuit states.

Attorneys for CAT said in a press release that the  lawsuit is intended to force the town to honor the 2018 agreement and move forward with the $40 million sale.

“For more than five years, CAT has devoted significant resources, time and millions of dollars, working diligently and in good faith with Riverhead, its CDA, and RIDA to close the sale and develop EPCAL.”

Mr. Hubbard referred a request for comment to the town attorney who did not immediately respond. Tracy Stark-James, executive director of the Riverhead IDA, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.