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Sand mining is back on the Riverhead Town Board’s agenda.

CMA Mine, which has a permit to mine a 20-acre site on the southwest corner of Osborn and Youngs avenues, has applied to the State DEC to expand an existing mine. The company is looking to expand the mine vertically, by digging to a depth of 100 feet — 89 feet below the groundwater table — and constructing an 8.5-acre lake.  

CMA Mine purchased the site for $3.35 million in 2017 from Suffolk Cement Products, which had obtained the permit to mine 14.98 acres there. Mining at the site dates back to 1938, according to documents filed with the DEC. Since Riverhead Town banned sand mining more than 20 years ago, the application seeks to expand a pre-existing, nonconforming use, town officials noted at Thursday’s town board work session.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the mine expansion could cause “a myriad of issues that have serious impacts for us in the Town of Riverhead.” 

Penetrating the ground water table was high on the list of issues concerning officials.

“When you go to a depth below groundwater you’re actually drawing laterally,” said deputy town attorney Annmarie Prudenti. “Any dewatering done in order to mine the sand would likely draw metals and contaminants from the adjacent town landfill and that could affect the water district’s wells south and east of the site,” she said.

Prudenti pointed out that the applicant’s environmental assessment form says the groundwater flows to the north from that site, but the town’s own engineering studies, done in connection with the landfill reclamation project, showed that water from the site flowed south and east. That puts the town’s drinking water wells at risk of contamination. If they are contaminated, “the town may have significant liability,” Prudenti said. 

The water being drawn up could also cause salt water intrusion into the aquifer, Prudenti said. That would have negative impacts on agricultural wells also.

“Eighty-nine feet just scares the hell out of me,” Councilman James Wooten said.

Building and planning administrator Jefferson Murphree said it’s the deepest mine application he’s ever seen. 

Murphree noted the DEC did not provide the town with the complete application made by the applicant. Large plans and appendices were not provided, the DEC said in its notice to the town.

He said a lot of information is not included on the short form EAF that the town needs to make a decision about what kind of additional environmental review is required. Murphree listed questions that need to be answered and information missing from the documents provided to the town:

  • How many cubic yards are proposed to be removed
  • How many cubic yards are allowed to be removed under the existing permit?
  • How many years will the mining continue?
  • How much traffic will be generated?
  • How much noise will be generated?
  • Will there be any materials processing on site?

Although the DEC said in a notice to the town that it wants to assume lead agency for for purposes of review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, town board members unanimously agreed the town should seek lead agency status. The lead agency decides how extensive the environmental review should be and ensures that all aspects of the State Environmental Quality Review Act are followed. The board has 30 days from the date of the DEC’s letter to let the state know the town wants lead agency status.

Murphree told the board he’s found the DEC is “very protective of” sand mines and he would expect the DEC to resist having the town assume lead agency. If two agencies seek lead agency status, the State DEC commissioner decides which agency should assume the lead agency role.

“We should identify as concretely and specifically as possible why we’re requesting lead agency,” Prudenti told board members.

The board agreed to retain its environmental consultant Jeffrey Seeman to assist with preparing the town’s response to the DEC and its request for lead agency status. 

Riverhead Town has a history with the DEC over sand mine permits. The state agency issued permits for two large, controversial sand mines in Calverton, which were issued mining permits by the state despite a 1998 town code change that banned sand mining in Riverhead.

The town fought long and expensive court battles with both mine operators as well as with the DEC over mining activities and mining permits issued by the state.

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