RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A David and Goliath fight of sorts continues to heat up on Long Island – with a small country community pitted against big-city money.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, it is all about making changes at the largest oil storage facility in New York state.
United Riverhead Terminal Inc. has proposed expanding the oil terminal in the Northville section of Riverhead to include gasoline. The company said the expansion would bring more jobs and cheaper gas prices, WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs reported Monday.
United, which is owned by supermarket magnate and onetime New York City mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis, is asking the Riverhead Town Board for permission to convert two tanks to store gasoline and build two new tanks to store ethanol, Newsday reported.
But residents are balking at the idea of millions of gallons of gasoline to the East End of Long Island. Images of overturned tankers and plumes of black smoke front the Northville Beach Civic Association website.
“These are rural country neighborhood roads,” said Phil Barbato of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition. “They are not designed for 18-wheelers with 12,000 gallons of hazardous liquid on them.”
The coalition is not only fighting the plan, but also its billionaire partner.
“We’re willing to work with them,” Catsimatidis said. “We just don’t want them to chase opportunities, tax money and jobs out of town.”
Catsimatidis’ 20 oil storage tanks on the bluffs above the Long Island Sound get supplies from offshore tankers. With home heating demand down, he wants to pipe in gasoline.
“When was the last time you saw a gas tank explode?” Catsimatidis said. “If we have to put our own road going into the county road, we will do that.”
His terminal is adjacent to farms at the gateway to wine country. Residents fear expansion will bring in big rigs year round, and that approval for two gasoline tanks will mean more down the road.
“Gasoline is obviously a much more volatile substance than oil is,” said Neil Krupnick, president of the Northville Beach Civic Association.
But gasoline retailers said there is a bigger picture — more gas flowing to pumps on Long Island could bring prices down through fueling healthy completion.
“It’s going to bring a little competition to the area, and also, in a time of crisis, I think it’ll a very good thing to have another source of fuel,” said Kevin Beyer, president of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association.
“We’re going to create jobs. We’re going to create cheaper gas prices, and we’re going to be there in case of emergencies to get extra gasoline,” added Catsimatidis.
But critics said any savings will be pennies on the dollar, and dismissed the claims of benefits for the area.
“It’s nonsense. It’s just not true. It was a ruse to sort of make it seem like they are being altruistic,” Krpunick said. “We do not need to be Long Island’s gas station.”
Riverhead officials said Catsimatidis has an uphill battle. He said he is used to that.
The Town of Riverhead will accept comments from United Riverhead Terminal Inc. until the end of the month, and will then rule on the application for the gasoline storage tanks.