What matters to the East End?
That was the question asked by the Long Island Regional Economic Council's East End public forum on Monday afternoon, a hearing meant to get feedback from local business owners and civic leaders on what the most pressing economic issues on the East End are.
The council will come up with a five-year economic development plan to vie for a share of $200 million of New York State funding using the feedback. The council's plan must be submitted by Nov. 14 and will compete against nine other regions from the state.
The council will also work to promote projects that file under a new application for a piece of an additional $800 million for development projects.
"We need to view this as a business plan," said council member and president of the Long Island Association Kevin Law. "This is not a plan to cure all ills on Long Island and to address every issue on Long Island. It's supposed to be an economic-development job-generation plan. We need to look at the state of New York as a potential investor and a partner."
State Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, called EPCAL and the Gabreski Airport property in Southampton "the last frontier in terms of big projects for economic development." He cited a high-tech business incubator in Calverton as an example of what could be built at Gabreski.
"Both cases, in my view, and especially in Riverhead," LaValle continued, "need joint resources from both the local, county and state [levels of government]." He also suggested relaxing restrictions on farming and fishing that he said were hurting local economic growth but not harming the environment, and urged the council to look into encouraging growth in the health care and education industries.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter also spoke before the council and asked for help in creating a committee to fast-track development at EPCAL.
"The days of us talking about how this is going to be a cash cow for Riverhead, how we're going to have ski mountains, everything about Riverhead, it's over," Walter said. "I think the Town Board understands at EPCAL that this is an economic generator for the region. We want to make sure that the way EPCAL is developed helps not only the town but the region."
Assemblyman Dan Losquadro, R-Shoreham, said the region could use more projects like the new rail spurs in EPCAL and Brookhaven that take shipping trucks off the road.
"Access is absolutely critical," he said.
Assemblyman Fred Thiele, I-Sag Harbor, said he knew the council was on a tight time frame, but recommended setting up a group to create an economic policy guide similar to the one Thiele helped write during Governor Mario Cuomo's term in 1993 and 1994.
He also suggested the council consider creating a "think-tank for East End issues" at Southampton College that he said would create jobs and help local leaders solve problems.
Thiele added that transportation was another issue for the East End, and suggested a project to create bus and shuttle train lines across the East End. He also said that repaving Montauk Highway should be a priority, saying the road "resembles the surface of the moon and the only new jobs it creates are for front-end alignments at our local car repair shops."
But Thiele cautioned that East Enders should not have to sacrifice their way of life.
"People don't come to the East End of Long Island, they don't come to Long Island in general, for the low taxes and utility rates," he joked. "They come here because there is a quality of life that people can enjoy here ... Our environment is our economy."