Riverhead Moves Forward on Animal Shelter Move, Ethics Bill Criticized

The Riverhead Animal Shelter
The Riverhead Animal Shelter

Riverhead’s long-derided animal shelter isn’t exactly the kind of place you’d chose to go to meet your new best friend. The cramped shelter is next door to the town landfill and a garbage company yard on Young’s Avenue in Calverton, where volunteer dog-walkers share the road with garbage trucks and mulching machines and animal advocates have long complained about the treatment of the animals.

Last year, Riverhead agreed to let the North Fork Animal Welfare League, which runs Southold’s shelter, take over the management of the Riverhead shelter, to the praises of animal advocates.

This Tuesday, after much public pressure, the Riverhead Town Board agreed in a 3-2 vote to transfer title of the former guard house for the Grumman plant on Grumman Boulevard, now known as the Henry Pfeifer Community Center, from the town’s Community Development Agency to the Town of Riverhead, paving the way for its use as an animal shelter.

The board will hold a public hearing at its June 3 meeting on extending the North Fork Animal Welfare League’s lease to continue to operate the shelter.

Before casting his ‘yes’ vote, Councilman Jim Wooten read an impassioned statement praising the North Fork Animal Welfare League for their work running the shelter under less-than-ideal circumstances, and praising the group Move the Animal Shelter (MTAS) for their advocacy for a new shelter.

Animal lovers celebrated the Riverhead Town Board's vote Tuesday afternoon to move its animal shelter.
Animal lovers celebrated the Riverhead Town Board’s vote Tuesday afternoon to move its animal shelter.

“They’re dozens of residents who are passionate about improving the shelter,” he said, adding that NFAWL has agreed to build dog kennels at the new location. He added that moving the animal shelter from the town dump, next door to a composting and grinding facility, was long overdue.

“Shelters aren’t just for animals. They’re for communities,” he said. “This goes hand-in-hand with the town’s urban renewal goals.”

Councilman John Dunleavy said he didn’t have much to add to Mr. Wooten’s speech.

“I’m an ordinary person. I don’t know how to take care of animals,” he said. “The North Fork Animal Welfare League is doing a great job.”

Town Supervisor Sean Walter also voted for the project, saying he might not have been convinced the animal shelter should be moved if MTAS founder Denise Lucas hadn’t cornered him in the parking lot of town hall and lectured him on the plight of animals in the town shelter.

The move wasn’t without detractors. Councilman George Gabrielsen said he believes the Pfeifer building is too small for an animal shelter, and has no room for expansion.

“I don’t think the location is ideal,” he said before casting his ‘no’ vote. “It’s too small and always has been too small.”

He added that the building is right next door to the rail spur into EPCAL, and the sound of freight unloading might be frightening to the animals. He also said the Pfeifer Center might end up being the gateway to an energy park at EPCAL, which could bring a million dollars in tax revenue to Riverhead.

“There’s a bigger comprehensive plan for EPCAL,” he said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio also voted against the move, saying she wished it had been discussed first at a work session.

Ethics Bill Doesn’t Go Far Enough?

Also on Tuesday, a new ethics proposal that would ban town board, planning board and zoning board members from serving as officers of political committees was criticized by two candidates in last year’s town elections.

Antony Coates, who ran a primary against Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman John Dunleavy last year, said he believes all elected officials should be banned from serving as party leaders.

He pointed out that highway superintendents who serve as party officials can decide whose roads are plowed first, and assessors who serve as party leaders can influence taxes paid by members of different political parties, a thinly veiled jab at town assessor and Republican Party Chairman Mason Haas.

“What if the next highway superintendent doesn’t have Geo’s code of ethics,” he said, referring to current highway superintendent George “Geo” Woodson. “You’ll say ‘that can’t happen’ because you know Geo and Mason and they’re good men.”

“Build it right, because you owe it to the people,” he added. “Build an ethical moat around town hall…. Tighten this town’s flimsy ethics laws.”

Mr. Walter said he agreed “100 percent” with Mr. Coates, but he believes the proposal is a step in the right direction and he will vote for it. The town board has been debating the ethics code at work sessions for months.

Angela DeVito, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for supervisor against Mr. Walter last year, pointed out that ethics reform in Riverhead has often taken the form of political tit-for-tat, with laws crafted to punish those out of power. Adopting comprehensive ethics reform, she said, would solve that.

“Let’s put it aside and do it all,” she said.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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