Riverhead Town could be one step closer to a new Federal Aviation Administration radar control facility sited at Enterprise Park at Calverton.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who advocated for the potential project, said on Monday that the FAA had contacted her to coordinate a site visit in mid-March to further discuss a potential New York integrated air traffic control complex at EPCAL.
Giglio was encouraged by the call; she has long urged her fellow board members to submit a proposal and throw Riverhead's hat into the ring, should the facility be moved to another location.
"EPCAL has so much to offer the FAA and the employees in terms of affordability and the high quality of life," she said.
Last month, tensions escalated at a Riverhead town board work session as Supervisor Sean Walter and Giglio exchanged heated words about the potential proposal.
And on Monday, Walter said he still held some of his initial reservations.
Walter said while he believed it was "great that FAA was coming to look at it," he still felt Islip would be the best location for the tower, adding EPCAL would be the second-best location.
The supervisor said Islip Supervisor Tom Croci, a Republican, asked his fellow supervisors in Suffolk County to support Islip's application.
"If not Islip, there is no better place than EPCAL," Walter said. "Other areas in the country take a regional approach to things. For some reason, Long Islanders don't want to take that approach ... sometimes it take the courage of your convictions to take a regional approach."
Walter said that if MacArthur Airport were to miss out on the tower, he fears it could damage the airport's rising profile over the past few decades, pointing to the days "it just flew prop planes when I was growing up. I would hate to think that loss could adversely impact the airport. It's Long Island's only regional airport."
Giglio, meanwhile, said the FAA's visit signals hope for a boon to the local economy. "If we are successful in our bid, the FAA facility will provide the type of economically viable and environmentally compatible jobs that the Town of Riverhead and the region has been seeking since the departure of Northrop-Grumman in 1998," she said. "This is our chance to show the world EPCAL's true potential and for the town to develop this property in a way that our partners at the federal, state and county levels will join in to create the regional hub EPCAL should be."
According to the FAA, on Dec. 20, the FAA issued a request for information for land for the new integrated air traffic control facility in New York. The RFI is for owners of 34 to 49 acres of land within 150 miles of New York City, within the state of New York, who are willing to sell the property to the FAA. The site must be suitable for construction of an operational air traffic control campus with approximately 250,000 square feet of buildings and parking for 800 employees. The RFI is for information and planning purposes; it is not a solicitation for offers to sell the property.
Giglio said the FAA wanted to relocate the FAA Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) from its current location at Long Island MacArthur Airport in the Town of Islip.
Walter objected and said he had met with Croci, as well as other elected officials, all of whom agreed to present a unified, regional front and urge the FAA to leave the facility where it currently sited, protecting the jobs of those who currently work there.
Giglio reminded that the matter was time sensitive and a proposal needs to be put forth by next week to Congressman Tim Bishop; she stressed the importance of keeping the facility, and jobs, on Long Island and said the FAA was considering sites in Albany and elsewhere in Hudson County.
Giglio brought a list of reasons why the facility could move to EPCAL, including that EPCAL is "ready to go," with no site plan needed. Giglio sited the Stony Brook Incubator as a model for what she said could be an "anchor" facility.
In addition, Giglio said the Town of Riverhead would not need to spend money; the FAA has a budget.
Secondary industries could spring up, Giglio said, as well as secondary spending in area hotels and restaurants. Riverhead residents, she said, would gain with jobs and payment in lieu of taxes payments. The new facility would breathe life into Riverhead's housing market, Giglio said; the new project could garner grants because the plan is shovel-ready.
In addition, Giglio said there is frontage on Route 25, the facility could hook up into town sewers, the use is consistent with the reuse plan, with light industrial jobs.
"Riverhead has a history with this use," Giglio added, and said the facility could be a "magnet for an aviation school."
The proposal, she added, would help employees with a more favorable commute time; the plan, she said, has regional draw.
Later in January, the town board agreed to offer 50 acres at EPCAL to the FAA, should an eventual proposal be accepted.
Walter said there were "serious" issues to discuss. The FAA, he said, has said that sites that have a seasonal groundwater table of less than 10 feet, would not be considered for the facility.
"That's three quarters of the property," he said.
In addition, Walter said, the FAA said sites with a history of material contamination would not be considered; he said groundwater beneath some of the property is contaminated.
"Why are you bashing EPCAL, Sean?" Giglio asked. "Who are you answering to?"
The board agreed to move forward with the proposal.
Associate regional editor Joseph Pinciaro contributed to this story.