Sean Walter is the Supervisor of the Town of Riverhead. He was our speaker this morning and he brought the audience up to speed on what has been known as the Enterprise Calverton project often referred to as EpCal. The history of the property goes back to when the Grumman Corporation used the facility to build and test airplanes for the Navy when Long Island was a major producer of fighter planes. Former Congressman George Hochbrueckner was instrumental in getting the property into the hands of the Town of Riverhead. (George was in the room this morning).
The town has been dancing with various partners in trying to get something productive going there. The idea of using it as another passenger airline airport was almost immediately rejected. The use as an air freight landing field did not have much of a reception either. The idea as a business enterprise zone has had some legs but some of the proposed partners were not on the same page as the town.
Selling the parcel to a developer has had some problems. The cost to a developer would be $45 million but the needed infrastructure to make the area viable would cost another $55 million. Along came Daniel Preston with his Luminati. Mr. Walter referred to him as a Doogie Houser kind of guy and with him as a financial backer John Catsimatidis. The plan is to develop the newest technology in aviation materials and solar flight.
Preston offered $45 million for the property which has a buildable potential of 10 Million square feet. And the potential of 10,000 employees. That according to Mr. Walter which would require additional lanes of highway and that could be a big negative. EpCal will also need a “village” of rental apartments. Given the hurdles to overcome the Supervisor still gave us a sense that there is something big that can be accomplished.
The meeting this morning was a presentation on Transportation issues and the presenters included MTA board member Mitch Pally, Long Island Contractors Executive Director Marc Herbst, TransDev operations Manager Ray Mazzeo, and Maglev Strategies President Dr. Jesse Powell. Respectively their expertise is Railroads, Roads and Bridges, Buses and Ultra High Speed Rail.
Each of them gave a short presentation on their own area of expertise and they were asked to describe various ways that these transportation modes interact with each other, and how they may better function if they had the wherewithal to improve systems. That means having the monetary resources as well as having political leadership that will take us where we need to go.
As moderator I began the conversation by noting that everyone in the room came to the meeting in an automobile, and that when I lived in Manhattan I never had a subway schedule simply because I knew that when I got to the subway a train would soon be in the station. I then asked when and how we would ever get to that point of confidence in our public transportation systems.
Of course none of the panelists were naïve enough to think that we would ever get to that place, but they did offer information that indicated we could make things a lot better. Mitch Pally spoke about the availability of buses at all or most of the LIRR train stations. He then lamented the lack of available parking because of the intransigence of the municipalities that control the real estate around the stations.
Ray Mazzeo insisted that buses that service the various areas are starved for operating cash. It is well accepted fact that public transportation systems rely on subsidies and those subsidies are not forthcoming. This situation is not unique to the US, but other countries are more generous in their approach to public transportation.
Suggestions of how we may make better north-south connection on Long Island and how those links would alleviate a lot of “you can’t get there from here” problems. If you are traveling from Huntington to Montauk Point by train, be sure you pack a lunch.
The discussion on the Maglev train was an interesting part of the program. According to Dr. Powell this technology would be more scalable and efficient because of the fact that single cars or long trains could just as easily operate on conventional rails that have been modified. In other words at minimal cost the conversions would allow conventional trains and Maglev could operate on the same infrastructure. This important because closing down a rail system for five years while installing a new system is a non-starter.
Mitch Pally said he was in favor of Maglev and the only way to get one is to create a small section and make observations on the real costs vs the expected costs. Perhaps Ronkonkoma to Riverhead would be a good demo.
Marc Herbst had a broad view of infrastructure reflecting a position that all of the needed changes in approach to infrastructure would work where his members could benefit and create better outcomes.