CMA Mine on the southwest corner of Youngs and Osborn avenues in Calverton. Image: Google Earth

Plans to dig a Calverton sand and gravel mine to a depth of 100 feet — 89 feet below the groundwater table — are advancing at the State Department of Environmental Conservation, to the dismay of Riverhead Town officials and community residents.

The state commissioner of environmental conservation has rejected the town’s request to lead the review of the mine expansion application, granting that authority instead to the DEC’s Region 1 Office.

The DEC Region 1 office has already issued its determination that the mine expansion will not have significant environmental impacts — giving the project a green light to proceed without additional environmental review.

The DEC Region 1 office has also already determined that the mine expansion permit application is complete — and, as such, ready for approval by the DEC’s regional permit administrator.

These events transpired over the past few months, out of public view and even without the awareness of at least some members of the Riverhead Town Board, who as recently as last week, said they were not aware the DEC commissioner had issued a decision in the lead agency dispute.

The town board voted on Dec. 17, 2019 to retain the services of an environmental consultant to respond to the DEC on the lead agency matter. But what happened after that has never been publicly discussed by the board.

“I don’t know. We haven’t heard anything about it,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said in a phone interview Friday.

The Riverhead Town Clerk’s file on the CMA Mine proposal, accessed Thursday through a Freedom of Information Law request, did not contain a copy of the DEC commissioner’s lead agency decision — which RiverheadLOCAL obtained through a request to the DEC in Albany — though the commissioner’s decision letter was dated July 29 and indicates that it was distributed to Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.

The clerk’s file also lacked a copy of the DEC’s determination of significance — a “negative declaration” that dispenses with further environmental review.

It also lacked copies of documents received by the clerk in December, which Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm listed as “correspondence” at the Dec. 17 town board meeting. The correspondence received was a Dec. 4 “lead agency coordination request” addressed to the town supervisor from the DEC, with attached copies of CMA’s DEC permit application and a “Mined Land Reclamation Permit Report.” On Thursday, when asked about the correspondence noted at the Dec. 17 town board meeting, Wilhelm searched her computer, found and printed out the documents, which she added to the clerk’s file. She said she was perplexed that the documents were not in the paper file, since she would routinely print and file them upon receipt.

The DEC has not published notice of the commissioner’s lead agency decision. It is not clear that publication is required by regulations, but the DEC does publish the commissioner’s lead agency dispute decisions on its website here. Commissioner Basil Seggos’ July 29 decision in the CMA Mine lead agency dispute has not been posted there.

The DEC also has not published its determination of significance in the Environmental Notice Bulletin. The DEC on Sept. 29 determined the mine will not have a significant effect on the environment and an environmental impact statement is not required. Publication of this determination of significance — known as a negative declaration or “neg dec” is clearly required by the DEC’s own regulations because the proposed mine expansion is a Type I action under SEQRA. A Type I action is an action considered likely to have significant environmental impacts. When a lead agency issues a negative declaration for a Type I action, SEQRA regulations require the lead agency to publish notice of the “neg dec” in the DEC’s Environmental Notice Bulletin.

Greater Calverton Civic Association president Toqui Terchun was incensed last night when informed of the DEC’s actions on the CMA Mine application without public disclosure by either the DEC or the town.

Terchun wrote to the town board Sept. 10 asking for updates on the CMA Mine proposal and many other pending land use proposals that affect the greater Calverton community.

“I never had a response from anyone,” Terchun said. “It’s like a black hole. And it’s very frustrating that it’s so difficult to get basic information about these things.”

“Who benefits from these sand mines? Not the residential communities that surround this noxious land use,” Terchun said.

She said the mine will have negative impacts on air quality and the sole source aquifer that residents rely on for drinking water.

“The DEC is supposed to be protecting our natural resources. Instead it seems they are promoting this type of business, sand mining, which is not appropriate in this residential area,” Terchun said.

Riverhead building and planning administrator Jefferson Murphree
told the town board at its Dec. 12 work session the DEC is “very protective of” sand mines.

The DEC has jurisdiction over mines in New York State under the Mined Land Reclamation Law.

CMA Mine will require a special permit from the town board in order to expand a pre-existing use that is not allowed under the current zoning code and it will also require a site plan approval from the planning board.

The 20-acre site on the southwest corner of Youngs and Osborn avenues has been mined since the 1940s, according to the operator’s DEC permit application. The current operator, CMA Mine LLC, is owned and operated by Steven Mezynieski, owner of Southampton Excavation. CMA purchased the site for $3.35 million in 2017 from Suffolk Cement Products.

CMA is currently mining sand and gravel on 14.9 acres of the site, which adjoins the town’s capped landfill. CMA is not seeking to expand the mine footprint laterally but rather is seeking to expand it vertically, digging a 100-foot-deep, 8.5-acre lake on the site. Using a hydraulic dredge, it will mine to a depth of 89 feet below the groundwater table. The mining is expected to continue through 2035, according the CMA’s application for a DEC permit.

Mining into the groundwater table is “very concerning,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said in an interview yesterday. She raised questions about responsibility for preventing illegal dumping in the new lake and responsibility for remediating groundwater contamination as a result.

Deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti told the board in December that potential groundwater contamination would be a serious risk.

“When you go to a depth below groundwater you’re actually drawing laterally,” Prudenti said. “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.

Aguiar said yesterday the town board and planning board are going to have to review these matters “very, very closely.”

Aguiar said she plans to put the subject on the town board’s work session agenda this week for discussion.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.