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Northville Industries

Northville Industries is located on Beach Street in Port Jefferson, where barges full of oil come to dock and unload the fuel, which is pumped through pipelines to a location in East Setauket and then to Holtsville. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven has renewed leases on two entities in Port Jefferson Harbor, but one of those operations has local environmentalists a little concerned.

The Town voted unanimously Jan. 30 to renew the lease for the Port Jefferson/Setauket Yacht Club (which is more known as simply the Port Jefferson Yacht Club) as well as the Melville-headquartered Northville Industries for use in its underwater and uplands properties on the eastern end of the harbor. The licensee has operated in that location since 1975, according to Town attorney Annette Eaderesto.

The yacht club’s lease has gone up to $35,100 for 20 years with a 3 percent annual increase. The club’s land includes around .892 acre underwater and 2.723 acres upland, including the club facilities.

“Oil transport is inherently a dirty operation.”

— George Hoffman

Northville’s operation has oil being brought in on ship or barge to the Port Jeff terminal, where it is shipped via either of two 16-inch pipelines up to its storage farm in East Setauket before moving on to a Holtsville terminal via a 12-inch pipeline, according to the company’s website. 

The oil transport company’s lease now increases to $77,322 based on a new appraisal, which includes around $40K for the underwater portion and around $37K for the upland portion. The company has agreed to pay slightly more than what the upland portion was appraised for. The 20-year term is set to increase annually by 3 percent. The company has had the lease since 1975, and the Town attorney said the company has not had any claims against the town.

George Hoffman, the co-founder of Setauket Harbor Task Force, said he had several concerns over the company’s continued engagement with the harbor. His group has been doing more and more testing of the Port Jefferson harbor in the past two years, having just finished the second season of testing. He asked for strict liability regarding the oil transport company.

“Oil transport is inherently a dirty operation,” he said. “There’s always tiny spills, no matter how hard they work there is always going to be problems.”

Eaderesto said Northville does not post a bond in case of any ruptures, and any spills are handled by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Miller Marine Services, a regional company with a site right next to the oil transport company, is there for immediate response. 

Steven Ripp, the chief operating officer of NIC Holding Corp., the parent company of Northville, denied there has been any leaking or spills into the harbor from their operations, further arguing the company would be able to contain any major spills into the immediate area of their operations on the harbor’s east end.

“There are never any minor spills, not even a gallon,” he said. “If there is a spillage whatsoever, we have to immediately report it to DEC and take swift action.”

Northville has been previously cited by the DEC. In 1987, Northville notified the DEC of a gasoline leak at its East Setauket site of approximately 1.2 million gallons that had leaked into the ground over a 10-year period. That gasoline had penetrated into the ground and reached the water table 100 feet below the surface. 

The company had settled with the DEC for a $25 million cleanup plan after the spill. In 2006, after a long and complicated cleanup process, the DEC reported Northville had completed all remediation.

In a later interview, Hoffman said he came away from the public hearing with more concerns, not less, especially concerning the overall health of the Port Jefferson Harbor and the age of the pipelines running over into East Setauket.

“This is going to be potentially 30 years — I didn’t feel comfortable about that,” he said.

When asked, the general manager at Northville, Peter St. Germaine, did not relate anything about the age of the pipe, instead saying it is frequently inspected by the state. 

“There are never any minor spills, not even a gallon.”

— Steven Ripp

A spokesperson for the state DEC said the agency inspects the facilities for petroleum bulk storage and major oil storage facility regulations. Recent inspections were performed in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2018. The DEC also conducts a review of the facility license renewal application, testing of certain tanks and secondary containment areas, and groundwater results from 12 monitoring wells at the East Setauket location, as well as two monitoring wells at the Beach Street site. The wells are sampled every six months.

Eaderesto said the town is able to back out of any lease at any time should the need arise. 

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said he is aware of the need for attention paid to Port Jefferson Harbor, especially considering the effluent from both Stony Brook University and Port Jeff treatment plants flows into the harbor as well.

Ripp said the location received hundreds of barges of oil a year, and through their pipelines run hundreds of millions of gallons, “safely” every year. 

“It is a critical facility for the Town of Brookhaven,” he added.

Northville isn’t the only industrial company to work close to the harbor. Along Beach Street in Port Jeff the Tilcon quarry is constantly operating with heavy moving equipment. The area also includes the LIPA power station to the north of both operations.   

Romaine said his concern was the location and that the lease would conflict with plans of a joint venture of Ørsted and Eversource to make Port Jeff a hub for planned wind turbines off the coast of Montauk. However, the town attorney said the lease is just an extension of a lease that has been in effect for several years.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she had initial concerns regarding community comments and ensuring proper liability coverage, but those concerns had been assuaged by the town law department, and she thanked the company for, “being a good licensee over the years.”

Both leases for upland and underwater land were set to expire April 30, 2020. The new license terms go 20 years with the availability of two 5-year extension options for the town.

A barge used by Northville Industries in Port Jefferson Harbor. File photo

A 2010 “legislative oversight” caused a stir between Port Jefferson Village and an oil company with decades-old roots in the community, though the village announced Aug. 7 during a public meeting the case has been settled.

As part of the settlement, with Northville Industries, a petroleum storage, distribution and wholesale company with property on the shores of Port Jefferson Harbor, the village agreed to amend a previously deleted section of its code. The village held a public hearing to discuss changes to permitted uses of marina waterfront-zoned parcels during the Aug. 7 meeting.

In 1976, the zone where Northville’s dock facility on Beach Street in Port Jeff was housed, and continues to be, was changed from an industrial to a marina waterfront. The change made Northville’s Port Jeff facility, which is used to take in petroleum deliveries by ship or barge that are then transported around Long Island, nonconforming to the village code. During the hearing, Village Attorney Brian Egan explained that the change was fought up to the New York State Supreme Court in 1976, and the site was granted conditional uses within the MW district, which allowed their decades-old operation to continue functioning.

In 2010 the village, to create multiple marina waterfront districts identified as MW-1, MW-2 and MW-3 drafted new legislation. The Northville property is located within MW-1. That legislation identified several permitted uses within marina waterfront districts, including recreational marinas, boat launching facilities, boat storage facilities, charter fishing boat operations, yacht clubs, restaurants and several others. However, it eliminated permitted conditional use of the space for “petroleum products and biofuels, marine terminal and pipeline facilities,” rendering the Northville facility noncompliant with the village code. Northville filed a lawsuit against the village in 2011. Egan said during the hearing the village had reached a settlement with Northville, and a stipulation of the suit was the code amendment.

“What this is really trying to do is, because we settled it I can say this, I would probably say it was a legislative mistake in 2010 to have eliminated a use that was already there and probably will continue forever,” he said. During a phone interview after the meeting Egan walked back “mistake” and instead classified it as a “legislative oversight.” “It’s been there forever, it will continue forever. What Northville said was, ‘Hey guys, we’re here. We were here even before this code was drafted. We’ve had it since 1976, just at least restore to us what you originally had in there before you took it out in 2010.’”

Northville’s is not the only property within the MW-1 district, which is the only one of the marina waterfront districts being granted conditional use pertaining to petroleum or biofuel related uses. So several village residents spoke out during the hearing with concerns that other companies might try to use property within the zone for similar purposes. Egan said the conditional-use status would leave any future proposals of that nature up to the village planning board to approve.

“Our history of this village is, it’s very difficult to do that,” village resident of Beach Street Michael Mart said during the hearing regarding a planning board denying conditional use on a property. “I’ve only heard of one time that they’ve prohibited a request for a conditional use, so I fear that by passing this, I guess we have to if it’s a settlement, because there’s only one street accessing those properties. For the most part that’s Beach Street. It’s shared by residents and to allow all of these uses to go there in the future, not immediately — I’m thinking far into the future when I’m not even here — that raises a significant zoning issue and a safety issue.”

Other members of the public were concerned by the phrase “marine terminal,” which does not have a definition within the village code. Village Mayor Margot Garant asked that a definition of marine terminal be added to the code to avoid unwanted uses from being permitted within the zone.

Egan also said an aspect of the amendment would be to create a “residential buffer” on Beach Street to separate Northville’s property and homes on the street.

He added the settlement was reached at no additional monetary cost to the village.

No vote was held on the amendment.