Riverhead Councilwoman Catherine Kent (left) and Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar (right) at a recent public hearing.
Riverhead is just one of two East End towns with competition this year for Town Supervisor, with incumbent Republican Yvette Aguiar attempting to keep Democratic Councilwoman Catherine Kent from winning her spot.
Ms. Kent is a retired teacher in the Riverhead School District who has served one four-year term, for the last two years as the only Democrat on the board. Ms. Aguiar, a retired New York City Police Detective, ousted Ms. Kent’s former running mate, Laura Jens-Smith, in a campaign two years ago in which Ms. Aguiar focused on cracking down on overcrowded housing, which her campaign blamed for the Riverhead School District’s need for expansion.
Ms. Kent, who would lose her seat on the Town Council whether or not she is elected Supervisor, is running alongside retired Riverhead Police Detective Evelyn Hobson-Womack, an Army veteran who was the first African American officer and detective on the town police force, and winemaker Juan Micieli-Martinez for Town Council. Republicans are backing incumbent and funeral director Ken Rothwell, who was appointed by Ms. Aguiar this year to replace former Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, and Riverhead Chamber of Commerce President Robert Kern for Town Council.
Ms. Aguiar and Mr. Rothwell had not responded as of press time to a series of questions from the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition about the future of Riverhead — from what to do with the EPCAL property and groundwater contamination plumes, to open meetings, the town’s comprehensive plan and preserving farmland.
Both Ms. Kent and Mr. Micieli-Martinez said they believe the current deal to sell EPCAL should be terminated, while Mr. Kern said that, if the purchase is complete, the buyer will begin paying property taxes and he “would absolutely hold the buyer accountable to the tech hub in the contract and would not allow any development on protected land.”
Ms. Hobson-Womack did not mince words.
“Every time I hear the phrase EPCAL I cringe,” she said. “I cringe because I think about how in the world did the Town Board allow us to be entangled with such a counterproductive agreement. That area could be used for a more productive development that serves the best interest of the town as a whole. RUN don’t walk from this deal.”
Both Ms. Kent and Ms. Hobson-Womack said the town should hook up homeowners with contaminated wells to public water as soon as possible, by whichever method proves to be quickest.
Mr. Kern said he is a member of the EPCAL Restoration Advisory Board, which is working with the Navy to determine if the Navy is responsible for the groundwater contamination, and that he is willing to share information from that committee when it is available.
Mr. Micieli-Martinez said he believes the town should work with all interested agencies to strategize the best course of action and could bond out the costs and apply for grants to assist with the project.
All three Democratic candidates said they were in favor of reinstating Zoom access to town meetings, which proved a vital component of public participation during the pandemic.
Mr. Kern said he is “in favor of open meetings with responsible timed comments.”
All of the candidates said they were in favor of holding comprehensive plan meetings in or near the hamlet being discussed at those meetings.
The candidates agreed that land preservation is a priority.
Mr. Kern said he is “totally in favor and have fought hard for” land preservation while he served on the Long Island Farm Bureau.
“The fist step to land preservation is county money,” he added. “I would like to see an East End program since the South Fork is flush with CPF funds. I know farming operations have ever growing labor shortages which is creating a survival issue.”
“What makes this a beautiful area to live in, is that we are surrounded by farmland,” said Ms. Kent. “We must do our part to help the farming community thrive. In order for the TDR program to be successful, we should add more sending areas east of Route 105. It’s important to classify more farms as sending areas so that farmers can sell development rights, make their money and keep their farms going,” she said. “Land management and climate change need to be an important part of the Comprehensive Plan Update. I was instrumental in getting an environmental advocate on the Comprehensive Plan Central Advisory Committee
Ms. Hobson-Womack said the town needs to “engage regional, county and state partners to accelerate the process before open space succumbs to development. We have plenty of areas within town that are zoned to support development — EPCAL, downtown, the Route 58 corridor. We must ensure development is focused in those areas and does not bleed into the farms, hamlets and open spaces. TDR is not an effective program. It benefits the developers not the farmers.”
Mr. Micieli-Martinez agreed that the town needs to work with all levels of government on preservation.
We need to implement and incentivize the TDR program to assist with conservation,” he added.
Election Day is Nov. 2.