Pictured Above: Strong’s Yacht Center, with the hill where the new boat storage buildings behind the existing buildings, as seek from across Mattituck Inlet.
A mixed bag of residents for and against two new proposed yacht storage buildings on the Mattituck Inlet spoke at the first of what will be two public hearings before the Southold Town Planning Board Monday evening, May 15.
The hearing, which will continue on Monday, June 5 at 6 p.m., is on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the excavation of a hillside at Strong’s Yacht Center on West Mill Road in order to build two roughly 50,000-square-feet heated yacht storage buildings.
Most who spoke at the hearing either praised Strong’s Marine for its longstanding business practices in the North Fork community — their business has grown rapidly over the past several years — or expressed concern about the ecological impact of the removal of about 600 trees and the 123,000 cubic yards of sand to be excavated from the hill overlooking the inlet, as well as the impact of the 4,500 trips expected to be taken by 30-yard dump trucks hauling sand away from the site over the course of the six-month excavation, which the applicants expect to begin in December of this year.
Planning Board Chairman Donald Wilcenski recused himself from leading the meeting due to a conflict of interest, and Board Member Jim Rich presided over the hearing, which lasted nearly three hours but was generally collegial.
Many who spoke in favor of the DEIS shared their personal experience with keeping a boat at a marina owned by the Strong family.
“I’ve worked with other marinas in the area,” said Maria Fasullo of East Marion, echoing the sentiment of many proponents of the project. “I like to use Strong’s because it’s a family business that’s not going to be taken over by national companies that really take advantage of boat owners. I keep my boat in Greenport but I take it to be serviced in Mattituck because the work is done right and they care about the customer.”
But many opponents said their primary concerns are not about the company proposing the project, but about its impact on the community and the environment.
Joel Klein of Mattituck, who said he was an environmental professor with more than 40 years of experience, called into question several of the statements made in the DEIS, particularly regarding the truckloads of sand to be hauled away.
He pointed out that the 4,500 truck trips proposed in the DEIS were not round-trip, despite the fact that Institute of Transportation Engineers standards call for detailing the total number of one-way trips. He added that the DEIS description of the soils at the site makes clear that the soil is heavier than average, and trucks will need to not be fully loaded to stay under their permitted weight.
He added that the 22-wheeled 30-yard dump trucks are grouped in the DEIS with trucks that are much smaller, and added that there would be “an 8,000 percent increase in semi truck traffic on West Mill Road.
“Impacts to bicyclists, historic structures and impacts on emergency response have all been underestimated,” he said.
Louise Harrison of Peconic, the Long Island Natural Resources Manager for Save The Sound, said several environmental assertions in the DEIS “strain credulity.”
“Do you really believe a stormwater system emptying metal roofs into a drywell is superior to a forest’s ecosystem services?” she asked. “This DEIS portrays forest loss as a win!”
She added that the DEIS does not take into account sea level rise and potential future inundation of the site, or how rising seawater will cause the groundwater table there to rise. She added that she hopes the town requires the applicant to allow the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to access the site to document threatened and endangered species that live in or migrate through it.
“The public has scrutinized the DEIS,” she said. “Save the Sound stands with Save Mattituck Inlet…. You need to reach a position that’s legally sustainable.”
Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca urged the Planning Board to deny the application, stating that the town Planning Board turned down a similar proposal
by the former owner of the property, Mattituck Inlet Marina, two decades ago.
“It’s simply impossible for this project to meet environmental mitigation requirements under SEQRA and your own Comprehensive Plan,” he said. “You simply have to ask what they were thinking with this application…. it’s a more intensive reincarnation of an already failed project the Town of Southold Planning Board had the good sense to reject two decades ago.”
Theresa Dilworth of Mattituck, who is a board member of North Fork Audubon, said 20 endangered birds are known to live in the area, and she used her own personal bat detector to take acoustic readings at the site and found “all nine species of bats known to live in New York State,” including the northern long-eared bat, which was added to the U.S. endangered species list this spring because of its susceptibility to a new fungal disease, white nose syndrome.
Mattituck Park District Chairman Kevin Byrne said the Mattituck Park District owns the most land adjacent to the Mattituck Inlet, followed by Strong’s Marine and the Strong family.
“They have a nearly equal interest and concern for the preservation of Mattituck Inlet” as the park district, he said. “Consider the history of the Strong family and the way they’ve handled their properties on the inlet. Save the inlet and Save the Sound people, if you decline this project, you will have done nothing to save the inlet.”
Park District Commissioner Nicholas Deegan disagreed.
“I prefer habitat to cutting down trees and the cutting down of the hillside,” he said. “I think that’s far more important, down the years, and for the people coming out to Southold. This is why they come out here. I have great respect for the Strong family. Their legacy would be enhanced if they found a way to do this project without removing the hillside.”
Strong’s Marine consultants spent the first part of the public hearing detailing several environmental impacts, including construction-related impacts and traffic noise, and consultants are expected to give presentations on the effect on water, groundwater monitoring, ecological resources and air quality at the June 5 continuation of the hearing.
Civil Engineer Doug Adams of Young Associates said the hill needs to be removed because the travel lift used to haul out the boats needs to run on level ground. He said the excavation will take place Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. He added that the sand could not be taken out by barge because barges used to haul sand have a much deeper draft than can fit in the Mattituck Inlet.
Ron Hill of Dunn Engineering said the yachts stored in the buildings would arrive by water in the fall and be taken out through the inlet in spring. After the excavation, during the construction of the buildings, he said work would be done Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with about 40 truck trips in and out of the site per day by employees and delivery trucks. The sand trailer trucks would travel down West Mill Road to Cox Neck Lane to Sound Avenue, taking Northville Turnpike to the busy shopping stretch of Old Country Road (Route 58) before getting on the Long Island Expressway at Exit 73, with the possibility of turning onto Bergen Avenue to avoid the last stretch of Cox Neck Lane.
Sean Harkin, an acoustical consultant with SoundSense in Wainscott, said the tree clearing and excavation would be done in winter, when most residents have their windows closed, and trucks would have white noise backup alarms that are less noticeable than traditional “backup beepers.” Trucks would also be required to disengage their jake brakes from Cox Neck Road to the construction site.
He added that two historic buildings — the Old Mill Inn, currently being renovated, and a water tower on West Mill Road — are close to the truck access route, but he found the vibration from the trucks was unlikely to damage the structures.
Anthony Martinetti owns both buildings, and said he “thinks a lot of worse things could be going on” on Strong’s property, including a 200-room motel. “That’s what it was zoned for,” he said. :The traffic is an’t a great thing, but it’s only six months. They’re trying to do what they can.”
“It’s only winter storage,” he added. “If it was 60 more slips, with boat traffic, that would be a different thing, but these are boats that are coming in once and going out once a year.”
He added that he swims in the inlet every day and he thinks the town should be more concerned with the runoff from a storm drain at the end of West Mill Road that runs into the inlet than with the runoff from the roofs of the buildings.
Several Riverhead residents said they’re concerned about the truck traffic, including Democratic Riverhead Town Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito.
“The fact that they’re going to be having one truck on the road every seven minutes for six months — the impact will be considerable,” she said, adding that there are 17 traffic lights on Route 58.
“The noise will disturb patients in the hospital, and the trucks will interfere directly with getting ambulances with patients to that hospital,” she said, adding that 5,500 students are bussed to schools in Riverhead each day, often along that stretch of road.
“We were sort of an afterthought,” she said of the impact on Riverhead. “The impact should have been considered across the towns.”
“The Planning Board’s task is risk management,” said Toqui Terchun of the Greater Calverton Civic Association, urging the board to “scrutinize more deeply” the flaws in the DEIS pointed out by residents, including the intensity of truck traffic.
“Is there a way to support Strong’s Marina with alternatives to this very controversial project,” she asked.
Several business owners, including farmers and commercial fishermen, spoke in favor of the project.
Doug Cooper, who owns Cooper Farms on Breakwater Road not far from the proposed site, said cargo comes in by ships and goes out by trucks at the Northville Terminal, a major regional hub for home heating oil, every day.
“Sixty years ago, much of this land was farmed, and we’ve preserved much of it,” he said. Things change. I’m a strong believer in property rights. If this property is zoned for it, it should be allowed.”
He added that Mattituck Inlet is one of very few safe harbors on the Long Island Sound for vessels traversing the North Shore of Long Island.
Marine Contractor James Kaminski said this facility will give marine workers something they don’t have ready access to on the North Fork — winter work.
“These buildings will be giving jobs to the town for decades,” he said.
Commercial fisherman Phil Colin said he’s been working from the Mattituck Inlet for 55 years, and more than 20 commercial fishermen on the inlet depend on Strong’s Yacht Center to do their work.
“I love wildlife, but they will move,” he said of the wildlife on the hill. “Around Riverhead, we have acres and acres of woodland that’s still productive. This is important for us, as commercial fishermen, to support our families. Strong’s has done a very good job.”
“Loss of contiguous habitat has much more of a negative impact than anyone realizes,” said Mark Haubner of Aquebogue, adding that stormwater runoff calculations done for the project anticipate just a two-inch rain event, which could easily be exceeded during stronger storms anticipated with climate change.
John McAuliff of EPCAL Watch in Riverhead said planning boards “are playing an essential role in protecting the character of the East End.”
“Look west of Riverhead and you can see a lot of development. It’s all done for ‘good’ reasons — for jobs, with promises about considering the environment. It’s always done because it’s a ‘step forward.’”
“It’s very important this project not just consider the special interests of the owner, but the larger community interest,” he said. “I have a deal for you. We’ll try to keep the jet cargo planes from over your heads, and you keep the trucks off our roads.”
The hearing continues on June 5 at 6 p.m. at Southold Town Hall. Written comments will be accepted through July 10, after which the Planning Board will prepare a Final Environmental Impact Statement and a findings statement determining whether the environmental impacts were mitigated by the steps outlined in the Environmental Impact Statement.