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Riverhead officials concerned about 'flyboarding' in the Peconic River

The Peconic River as it travels east passing

The Peconic River as it travels east passing under Edwards Avenue in Calverton, seen here on Nov. 4, 2011. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Riverhead officials want to rein in an extreme sport that uses powerful water jets to propel thrillseekers high above the Peconic River.

The town board is considering regulations that would force a "flyboarding" company from the cove near the downtown business district where it operates and push it into a wider and deeper Peconic Bay, following complaints by neighbors and environmentalists.

Flyboard LI began operating last summer on the Peconic River near the Treasure Cove Resort Marina. The sport harnesses a personal watercraft's water stream, routing it through a hose and into a pair of specialized boots. The thrust allows a flyboarder to soar 10 to 15 feet in the air and perform tricks.

Riverhead's proposed rules include safety requirements and standards governing where flyboarding would be allowed in the town. Town board members have been working on the law for several months, and may hold a public hearing later this winter.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the company's location in the Peconic River is "completely inappropriate" because it's in shallow water and close to waterfront homes.

Walter said he's not opposed to the activity in general. "It looks like a really fun sport," he said. "I'm an avid water skier."

Flyboard LI owner Jimmy Bissett said by email Wednesday that proposed regulations could force relocation to another town.

"Moving it off Main Street will limit the amount of people that will enjoy downtown Riverhead because it's off the path," he said.

Bissett, 26, said noise from flyboarding is "very low" and the sport "is not stirring up the water any more than any other Jet Ski or boat passing by."

Elizabeth Parillo, 17, whose family lives near the cove on Riverside Drive, compared the sound of flyboarding to "a bug just buzzing in your ear." Parillo and her parents urged the town board at a meeting Tuesday to force flyboarding out of the cove.

Kevin McAllister of the East End advocacy group Defend H2O, said flyboarding could stir up organic compounds from the riverbed, leading to harmful nitrogen pollution.

"This has no place, I would argue, in Riverhead's waters and particularly the Peconic River," he said at the meeting. The river is on the state's list of environmentally impaired waterbodies because of nitrogen pollution and low oxygen levels.

Riverhead's proposed rules would ban flyboarding from navigation channels and within 300 feet of the shore, structures or boats, among other restrictions.

Board members are divided on some details of the law. Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said speeding boats, high winds and waves could make flyboarding dangerous in the Peconic Bay, too. She said she favors allowing it in calmer waters near the mouth of the Peconic River where it empties into the bay.

"I don't think it's safe pushing this all the way out in the bay," she said. "You get whitecaps out there."

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