Actor Alec Baldwin is urging the Oyster Bay Town Board to deny a special-use permit for a proposed interactive wildlife facility at a Massapequa shopping mall.
“Please do not allow this awful operation in town,” Baldwin stated in a letter to the board, which his agent said he co-wrote with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a Norfolk, Virginia-based animal rights group. The letter is to be mailed Tuesday, a PETA spokeswoman said.
Vince Covino, chief executive of Boise, Idaho-based SeaQuest Holdings LLC, at an Oct. 2 hearing told the town board of his proposal to build a $5 million, 27,300-square-foot facility in Westfield Sunrise Mall.
Covino described his facilities as a hands-on educational opportunity for children to learn about the environment and preserving fragile ecosystems. SeaQuest visitors can feed caimans, snorkel with stingrays, hold lizards and interact with exotic birds in exhibits designed to show different habitats around the world, according to its website.
The company has opened similar attractions in malls in Utah, Texas, Colorado and Nevada, and two more are slated to open this year at malls in California and Florida.
Colorado’s agriculture department issued a cease-and-desist order to SeaQuest earlier this year for opening a facility in Littleton, a Denver suburb, without the proper permits. A spokeswoman for the department earlier this month declined to provide information other than providing a copy of the order because the case was “considered an open investigation.”
SeaQuest issued a statement saying that in Littleton, authorities "determined that our large volume of guests exceeded the aviary limit and requested we decrease the number of avian occupants. ... SeaQuest complied and was not placing animals nor individuals at risk."
Baldwin’s letter to Oyster Bay recounted media reports about the company and Covino of allegations of improper treatment of animals, animal deaths and legal issues.
Baldwin, who pointed out in the letter that he grew up in Massapequa, alleged SeaQuest and Covino “has not only flouted the law nearly everywhere he goes but also left untold animal suffering in his wake.”
SeaQuest in its statement rebutted Baldwin’s allegations in a point by point response.
Covino told the board at the Oct. 2 hearing: “We work with the state and federal authorities that regulate our industry to ensure that we have all of the proper permits.”
More than a dozen Long Island animal rights activists addressed the town board's Oct. 16 meeting to ask board members to reject SeaQuest’s application.
John Di Leonardo, of Malverne, manager of PETA’s animals in entertainment campaign, told the board the company’s practices and controversies were “not what we want to see for Oyster Bay or Long Island.”
The Town Board has not made a decision on SeaQuest’s permit application. Town spokeswoman Marta Kane said in an email Monday the town has received 42 comments on the application and all have requested the permit be denied.
"The town welcomes all public comment prior to considering an application," Kane wrote.