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Riverhead candidates spar over handling of drone company

Skydive Long Island in Calverton on July 31,

Skydive Long Island in Calverton on July 31, 2014. The property is expected to be used for the development of high-altitude, solar-powered drones, a former property owner said Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Plans for a high-tech drone company to conduct research and development in Riverhead has emerged as an issue in a heated race for town supervisor.

In a Thursday evening debate in Jamesport, Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio split over a proposal to lease a town-owned runway to Luminati Aerospace LLC, which recently bought 16.3 acres at a Calverton industrial park.

Luminati plans to develop solar-power drones capable of projecting Internet service. Walter said the company is affiliated with a well-known, multibillion-dollar tech company. Luminati officials have declined to identify their backers.

Giglio said she and another councilperson believe Luminati should be charged more for use of the runway than the fee under consideration by the town board: $31,810 per year, subject to annual cost-of-living increases.

Giglio said Walter negotiated the price with Luminati officials and cited it as example of the supervisor acting "unilaterally." She said it's the same price paid by the runway's former tenant, Skydive Long Island.

Walter said Giglio's concerns show she is "not qualified to be town supervisor." He said Luminati is "the future of this town" and "other municipalities would be rolling out the red carpet."

"Councilwoman Jodi Giglio wants to chase them away with high fees," Walter said. "I will never do that."

Giglio, a Republican, and Walter, a Republican running on the Conservative line, are locked in a three-way race for supervisor that also includes Anthony Coates, a Democrat.

Town officials have scheduled an Oct. 20 public hearing on the lease agreement for the runway at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

Walter also declined to identify Luminati's backers, but said: "If you look at the press, you get two guesses at who they really are."

Newsday has reported that Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. have invested in solar-powered drone technology.

Luminati plans to hire 40 employees immediately, chief executive Daniel Preston said at a Riverhead Town Board work session Thursday.

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