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Despite concerns, sand mining project in Calverton moving forward

A controversial sand mining project in Calverton appears to be moving forward despite opposition from Town Board members and local residents.

In December, an application was submitted by CMA Mine, owned by Steven Mezynieski, seeking permission to construct an 8.5-acre lake to a maximum depth of 89 feet below groundwater at an existing sand mine at the southwest corner of Osborn and Youngs avenues. The property is adjacent to the town’s capped landfill and the applicant is proposing to mine 14.98 acres of the 20-acre property.

Citing environmental concerns, the Town Board — then headed by former supervisor Laura Jens-Smith — argued that it should serve as lead agency for the review of the project, a stance her successor, Yvette Aguiar, agreed with.

However, the state Department of Environmental Conservation also requested lead agency status over the review. The dispute was ultimately referred to DEC commissioner Basil Seggos, who quietly issued a decision in late July in favor of the DEC. The ruling was first reported by RiverheadLocal.com. 

In an interview last Thursday, Ms. Aguiar said she has serious concerns about leached contaminants from the nearby landfill and saltwater intrusion that could negatively impact the sole-source aquifer residents rely on for their drinking water.

“This is a very serious environmental issue that has to be carefully reviewed,” the supervisor said, arguing that the town should have been granted lead agency. “It is our land. We know the history of that mine; we have the records.”

According to an Environmental Notice Bulletin posted to the DEC website last Wednesday, the DEC recently classified the project as a Type I action pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Typically, Type I actions are considered to have a significant environmental impact. However, the DEC posted that a Negative Declaration is on file, meaning no further environmental review will be required.

But during a work session last Tuesday, some town officials expressed concern with what Councilwoman Catherine Kent described as “inaccuracies and omissions” in the Environmental Assessment Form the applicant submitted for review.

“A number of issues regarding this application were left unanswered by the DEC and, also equally as important, there are a number of procedural issues, questions and, I believe, deficiencies required by SEQRA that are being brought into question as well,” said town building and planning administrator Jeff Murphree, pointing to an unrelated project whose negative declaration decision was 12 pages long.

“Here we have a project of this magnitude and the negative declaration is barely three pages long,” he said.

At a meeting in December, deputy town attorney Anne Marie Prudenti raised concerns over the EAF as well.

According to Ms. Prudenti, the applicant’s report states that water in the area will travel north of the groundwater divide. But town documents state that water runs south and east at that particular site, she said.

“The town may have significant liability regarding contamination of our wells and the requirement to remediate or prove who is responsible for that contamination,” Ms. Prudenti warned.

Greater Calverton Civic Association president Toqui Terchun said Friday that both the proposal and recent actions by the DEC are concerning. Ms. Terchun shares concerns about water quality but also said neighbors will be impacted by poor air quality and dust as a result of the mining operation.

“It’s infuriating. You think [the DEC] is there to protect you,” Ms. Terchun said.

At last Tuesday’s work session, Ms. Kent said the issue is of “great importance” to the community and pointed out the timeline in place if the board was to exercise legal recourse against the DEC. In New York, Article 78 proceedings to challenge decisions of a state or local agency must generally be filed within four months of the decision.

Officials indicated during the work session that the issue would be discussed in an executive session, though it’s unclear at this point if the town will pursue that option.

“I certainly think Riverhead should take a hard line on this,” Ms. Kent said Friday.

Ms. Aguiar said the town attorney’s office is still researching the issue. She said she feels like the public isn’t being heard. “All Type I actions through SEQRA require the township and residents to have input, and we were not afforded that,” she said. 

In the meantime, the DEC is accepting public written comments until Nov. 27, according to its website.

Letters and emails may be sent to John A. Wieland ([email protected]) at the NYSDEC Region 1 Headquarters at SUNY/Stony Brook, 50 Circle Road, Stony Brook, NY 11790.

Ms. Aguiar, however, said she would have preferred an open public hearing, noting that “most people will not submit responses because they’re not aware.”