Town & Crown settle lawsuit; company will grind our yard waste

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A semi-truck belonging to Eagle Asphalt of Riverhead dumps a load of debris at the Youngs Avenue yard waste facility Thursday afternoon.

Just in time to clean up after Tropical Storm Irene, the Riverhead Town Board last Thursday authorized the settlement of a 2009 lawsuit it filed against Crown Sanitation in Calverton in which Crown has agreed to grind up yard waste for the town for a period of 18 months — for free.

The town took the Youngs Avenue recycling company to court in 2009, claiming it had illegally cleared a 14-acre site adjacent to its recycling facility.

Officials said at the time they feared Crown was illegally sand mining and that the work “was not being done for the purpose of farming.”

Crown, on the other hand, had received a permit from Riverhead’s building department that year for “agricultural use as a tree farm and site preparation by clearing, grading and exporting 76,000 cubic yards of material” on the parcel, on the grounds that agriculture is exempt from needing an excavation permit for such activities.

The Town Board disagreed, saying any excavation permit needs to be issued by the Town Board, not the building department, and issued a stop-work order. Crown, which had already begun the work, resisted, and the issue ended up in court.

Fast-forward to last week, and the matter was settled.

“This is a settlement that puts to rest the Crown Sanitation litigation,” Supervisor Sean Walter said.

The deal requires Crown to grind the approximately 10,000 cubic yards of debris left behind by Irene, as well as all other yard waste from the town for the next 18 months, into mulch. Crown is located directly across from the town’s old landfill, which is used for yard waste collection, and the settlement requires Crown employees to do the mulching at the town facility.

“We estimate the cost of grinding all this to be about $50,000,” Mr. Walter said. “So in lieu of them paying a fine of about $50,000, they’re going to grind the town’s yard waste for 18 months. And that’s timely, considering Irene.”

Crown’s 2009 permit to operate a tree farm on the 14 acres will remain in effect, but they are prohibited from doing any new clearing, grading, excavating, exporting or importing of material from the site without additional town permits, according to the settlement. A state Supreme Court judge in 2009 refused to grant the town a temporary restraining order against Crown.

Mr. Walter didn’t sound confident this week about the town’s chances in the case, had it moved forward.

“The problem with the litigation is that there was a hole in the town’s code this big, and Crown Sanitation drove their truck through it,” Mr. Walter said. “Then, after the horse had left the proverbial barn, the town closed the loophole, so we were not in a great position to win the litigation.”

Crown’s vice president, Pete Rosano, did not return a call seeking comment on the settlement.

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