Riverhead OKs step toward EPCAL authority

The EPCAL site in Calverton. (Jan. 31, 2008) The EPCAL site in Calverton. (Jan. 31, 2008) Photo Credit: The Nature Conservancy / Trish Pelkowski

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At a hastily called special meeting in Riverhead Friday, the town board voted 5-0 for a home rule resolution officials say is the key to developing the town-owned Enterprise Park at Calverton.

The resolution supports proposed state legislation that would make the town -- not the state -- the lead agency in any future environmental review of property at the sprawling EPCAL site. That would allow town officials to issue within 90 days a permit to someone who wants to buy property there.

That result cannot be achieved before a yearlong environmental review of the property is completed by the state -- a review that cannot begin until the state legislature approves it. And that action requires the home rule message.

With the legislative calendar set to close June 20, it became critical for the town board to approve the home rule message swiftly, Supervisor Sean Walter said.

"This will finally give us the authority we need, but the environmental study couldn't start until we voted," he said.

About 1,275 acres of the 3,000-acre EPCAL site have been set aside for future development. After years of fighting between environmentalists and developers since the property was declared surplus by the U.S. Navy in 1996, consensus has emerged on where new construction should go.

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"In February, some business and environmental people got together to produce a map of what lands need to be protected and what lands can harmlessly be developed, to avoid future disputes. Miraculously, everybody found the map acceptable," said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.

Amper also supports the pending state legislation, in part because of changes made to it after earlier protests.

"The bill has been scaled back to eliminate any local commission with super-authority over EPCAL development. What's left is a way to expedite development in appropriate areas consistent with procedures required under state environmental law. All of that is fine by everybody," he said.

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