Board rejects family’s bid to remove sand from farmland

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Steve Mezynieski and his wife, Gretchen, are joined by their son Cole, then 16, at the family’s 42.5 acre property in Calverton last August.

The Riverhead Town Board on Tuesday unanimously denied Driftwood Family Farm’s application to remove 415,000 cubic yards of sand and material from its 42-acre farm on Route 25 in Calverton.

Steven Mezynieski of Driftwood Family Farms has said he needed to remove the sand so that the hilly site could be regraded, improving soil quality and also making more land available for farming.

His plan was eventually to leave the farm to his teenage son, Cole, who would continue to farm it, he’s said.

Mr. Mezynieski also owns Driftwood Farms in Orient and an excavating company in Southampton.

But Town Board members said the applicant had failed to show how removing so much material — which could fetch a hefty sum on the market — would enhance the site’s ability to be farmed. They said removing that much sand would set a precedent for others to run sand mining operations under the guise of agriculture.

“If we allowed this, Calverton would become one big sand mine,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said in an interview before Tuesday night’s vote.

Board members said they had no problem with excavating and regrading the property, they just opposed the removal of such large amounts of sand.

“Of course I want your son to be a farmer in Riverhead,” Councilman Jim Wooten said to Mr. Mezynieski, seated in the crowd, before casting his vote. “I love that culture and I think it’s beautiful for the North Fork. I think we can help you do that without taking the sand out. Just because I don’t agree with taking the sand out, I think we can still make a viable farm there.”

“So you guys are willing to have us come back here?” Mr. Mezynieski then asked.

“I feel the same as Councilman Wooten,” Councilman John Dunleavy said. “We just can’t have all that sand removed.”

Mr. Dunleavy had been the only board member supporting Driftwood’s plan two weeks ago, while Mr. Wooten had said he was willing to consider it.

But Mr. Dunleavy changed his mind and said last week that he had received calls from people who had seen trucks going in and out of the property and had concerns that the excavating was being done without a permit.

Mr. Mezynieski said in an interview Monday that he parks trucks on the Calverton property and uses them for work, such as at his business in Orient.

“We had a meeting with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on-site today and they reviewed the entire site and they said there is no activity going on there that shouldn’t be,” Mr. Mezynieski said told a reporter. DEC officials could not be reached for comment on the matter.

“We’ve tried to do the right thing and come in right from the get-go with a comprehensive plan,” Mr. Mezynieski also said Monday. “We had the Soil Conservation Service help us to draw up a plan, we did everything we were supposed to do and nobody wants to hear it.”

Mr. Mezynieski went on to say he believes town officials, having been “burned before” by sand mining companies and sand mining operations in disguises, helped sink his application.

“They are afraid we are going to set a precedent. Unfortunately, we’re the ones who are getting the negative consequences from it,” he said.

Mr. Mezynieski said the family has invested more than $3 million in the Calverton property and has not yet decided what the next move will be.

Before the vote at Tuesday’s meeting, perhaps anticipating the denial of his application, Mr. Mezynieski took the podium, where he merely thanked town officials for the time they put into reviewing his application.

[email protected]