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Billionaire John Catsimatidis again seeks oil terminal in Riverhead

John Catsimatidis stands in a stair above his

John Catsimatidis stands in a stair above his Northville oil terminal in Riverhead on June 13, 2015. He says he is exploring legal options to build two ethanol tanks on the site. Credit: Veronique Louis

Energy magnate John Catsimatidis said he is reviving a plan to distribute gasoline from his sprawling oil storage facility in Riverhead, two months after he withdrew the idea amid resistance from town officials and neighbors.

Catsimatidis, a Manhattan billionaire in the supermarket, real estate and energy industries, said he is exploring legal options to build two ethanol tanks at the United Riverhead Terminal that would allow him to mix gasoline -- with or without approval from Riverhead officials.

"We're trying to figure out how we can legally do it," Catsimatidis said Saturday during a tour of the 286-acre site in his black Mercedes-Benz. He declined to comment further on possible legal strategies.

Catsimatidis, who in 2013 ran for the Republican nomination for mayor of New York City, said his plan would open a new avenue for gasoline to reach eastern Long Island, potentially lowering prices and preventing fuel shortages like those that paralyzed Long Island after superstorm Sandy in 2012. The United facility, high on the bluffs over Long Island Sound, was unaffected by the storm, company officials said.

But Catsimatidis dropped the gasoline proposal in April after dozens of neighbors in the Riverhead community of Northville lobbied town board members to oppose it.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter declined to comment Tuesday, saying he had not spoken to Catsimatidis recently. But representatives of a civic group said they remain opposed to the project.

"I know he's someone who's used to getting what he wants," Neil Krupnick, president of the Northville Beach Civic Association said Tuesday. "But the law is the law."

Northville residents say they don't want gas-filled trucks adding traffic to their rural streets. They said the terminal, grandfathered into a quiet residential area surrounded by farmland, cannot expand its operations without town approval.Catsimatidis bought the field of 20 towering oil tanks in 2012. United officials said it's the largest oil storage facility in New York State and is attached to a Long Island Sound oil and gas shipping platform that is the largest of its kind on the East Coast.

Distributing gasoline would allow United to add three or four employees to the site's staff of about 20 workers, general manager Scott Kamm said.

Gasoline reaches eastern Long Island via barge from New York Harbor to Port Jefferson, where it is then piped underground to a Holtsville terminal, said Kevin Beyer, president of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association.

Beyer said having another entry point in Riverhead could inject competition into the market and keep fuel flowing in emergencies. "I think having it out here won't be the worst thing," he said.

Gasoline was distributed from the United terminal in 2002. Since then, the facility has mostly stored oil and diesel. It's also a distribution site for home heating oil, though company officials said that business has declined in recent years as many residents switch to natural gas.

Catsimatidis said he wants to build two 19,000-gallon ethanol tanks -- about 20 feet tall by 10 feet wide -- that would be partially obscured in a slope in the earth roughly 20 feet deep. They would stand between two much larger existing tanks that would be modified to hold regular and premium gasoline.

Catsimatidis said he is willing to explore eliminating truck traffic in Northville by building an underground pipeline between the United facility and the former Metro Fuel Oil terminal in Calverton, which he bought in 2013. He said the pipeline would cost $15 million to $20 million and take about 1 1/2 years to construct.

"We're willing to make investments in communities that welcome business," Catsimatidis said.Krupnick said a pipeline could draw even more opposition due to the potential for underground leaks. "Environmentally, that's a bigger disaster than what he's proposing," Krupnick said.

Catsimatidis also said he is willing to landscape the site to obscure existing pipes and other infrastructure. Krupnick said he'd welcome it, but it isn't enough.

"He's convinced himself that the reason we don't want this is because it's ugly," he said. "Yes, it is ugly, but that's not why we don't want it."

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