William Lindsay, presiding officer of the Suffolk Legislature, last week urged Governor David Paterson to support a proposed Calverton theme park that would include one of the highest objects in Suffolk County, a 350-foot indoor ski mountain, a 90-acre artificial lake, a 100,000-square-foot convention center, eight resort complexes, 2,000 hotel rooms and 3,500 time-share units.
The estimated $1.5 billion undertaking, known as the Riverhead Resorts project, would be built on 755 acres east of Riverhead once used by the Grumman Corp. to manufacture and test Naval aircraft.
Mr. Lindsay wrote Governor Paterson Thursday that, with Suffolk County government facing a $150 million budget shortfall, it is important that the state “encourage economic development projects that will significantly increase our employment and tax revenues.”
“Riverhead Resorts is designed to be a four-season tourism destination resort,” he wrote. “It will enhance our efforts to move our tourism industry from a seasonal to a comprehensive year-round industry, thus bringing thousands of new visitors to our region and state each year … The project will specifically integrate opportunities for visitors to extend stays and tourism dollars through existing Long Island and East End destinations.”
Mr. Lindsay, a retired electrical workers union official from Holbrook, concluded that “Suffolk County is very hopeful that your office and all state agencies will create an atmosphere of mutual understanding that this very important project can move forward without delay.”
Richard Amper, executive director of the Riverhead-based Long Island Pine Barrens Society, reacted to the Lindsay letter, saying he didn’t “see Paterson intervening in a land-use matter” and, moreover, believed “the state would be more likely an honest broker than the town” in examining the project’s impacts.
Mr. Amper spoke of the many projects proposed for the Calverton site through the years. “So far, we’ve seen proposals for an international jetport, a major motion picture studio, a NASCAR racetrack and a Disney-like theme park. The landscape is littered with highfaluting notions at Calverton, none of which have panned out. So I wouldn’t be trying on my skis for the indoor ski mountain now.”
Phil Cardinale, the supervisor of Riverhead Town, which has agreed to sell Riverhead Resorts the land for $155 million—it was transferred to the town by the federal government after Grumman ceased operations—said he was pleased with the Lindsay letter.
The letter, he said, was an “outgrowth” of a recent presentation before members of the Suffolk Legislature by Mitch Pally, attorney for Riverhead Resorts. Mr. Cardinale said it was good that all levels of government “move forward together” in backing the project. He acknowledged there has been criticism on environmental grounds and concern about traffic. These impacts need to be “balanced” with the economic gain, he argued.
Suffolk Legislator Edward Romaine, in whose legislative district the projects would be sited, said he was “surprised that Bill Lindsay is operating outside of his legislative district, and I don’t think he is fully aware of the circumstances involving the Riverhead Resorts project.”
Mr. Romane spoke of environmental impacts “infringing on a unique and rare habitat” and “issues of transportation … There is no easy access for all those people on local roads.”
MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, spoke of the project having a “monumental impact” on the area environmentally and said it was “unclear to me why as to why Legislator Lindsay would think that his personal opinion might hold any significant sway with the new governor, prompting him to jump into” the endeavor.
Ms. Johnston said that the state Department of Environmental Conservation “should be the lead agency” under the state’s Environmental Quality Review Act in evaluating the project and “the governor should support DEC in its justified efforts to carry out the duties it has been empowered by law to do … A conflict of interest prevents the Town of Riverhead from carrying out that duty.”
Ms. Johnston said her organization, composed of 46 civic groups, “supports a full environmental review conducted by the DEC as an impartial agency without any conflict of interest. We expect and deserve nothing less, and I am confident that our state and our communities certainly will not accept less than a fully coordinated, non-segmented and impartial environmental review.”