April 7, 2020 By: Tim Gannon
In a meeting closed to the public, with two members participating remotely, the Riverhead Town Board unanimously approved a temporary lease agreement Tuesday to allow ULC Robotics to use a portion of the western runway at the Enterprise Park at Calverton to test drones at a monthly fee of $2,000.
The meeting was broadcast live on the town’s website and on Channel 22, the government channel.
The public was allowed to email or call in comments on any resolution on the agenda, but could not comment on items not on the agenda.
The board, in its capacity as the Community Development Agency, received two comments opposing the ULC Robotics agreement.
Supervisor Yvette Aquiar, Councilman Frank Beyrodt and Councilwoman Catherine Kent were present, seated with empty chairs between them, but board members Jodi Giglio and Tim Hubbard participated via phone, so they could hear and speak to other members.
Much of that would not be permitted under the state’s Open Meetings law, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently issued an executive order allowing them, due to the highly contagious coronavirus that has so far killed nearly 5,500 people in New York State alone.
ULC Robotics seeks to test a “vertical take-off and landing fixed wing, unmanned aircraft that has a 10-foot wingspan, can fly up to 55 mph and can stay in flight for 5 to 7 hours with a 10-pound payload,” according to the company.
ULC Robotics seeks to use the drones on offshore wind farms and to conduct environmental studies to protect endangered species.
The town received letters of opposition from Ron Hariri, an attorney who has a house in Aquebogue, and Rex Farr, who heads a group called EPCAL Watch.
Mr. Hariri said the town failed to provide adequate public notice of the hearing and of the terms of the agreement. He said that the EPCAL runways might be needed for military or emergency reasons and urged the board to reject the lease agreement or, at the least, table the vote until a future meeting.
Mr. Farr’s letter said the town has not complied with State Environmental Quality Review Act requirements to determine if additional environmental study is necessary. He said that drones are often banned from wildlife sanctuaries and that there are a number of endangered species at EPCAL.
Jeff Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator, said Mr. Farr is correct, and SEQRA was required. He said the resolution was amended to include the SEQRA reference and the planning department determined that additional study was not needed.
“It does, and we did it,” he said, indicating that the Planning Department determined that no further environmental review is needed.