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

Riverhead Town is hiring a law firm to challenge the State Department of Environmental Conservation’s handling of the CMA Mine application to expand an existing mine at the corner of Youngs and Osborn avenues in Calverton.

The town board voted unanimously Tuesday to hire the Ronkonkoma law firm of Thomas M. Volz “to pursue litigation” against the DEC in connection with the mine expansion.

CMA Mine has applied to the State DEC for a permit to expand a 15-acre mine vertically, excavating to a depth of 100 feet — 89 feet below the groundwater table — and creating an 8.5-acre lake on the site.

Both the DEC and the Town of Riverhead sought lead agency status under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Under SEQRA, the lead agency controls the extent and scope of the environmental review done for any proposed action. If two agencies assert lead agency status, SEQRA requires the commissioner of the DEC to decide which agency gets the designation.

The town received DEC’s notice of lead agency in December and retained an environmental consultant to assist the town in its response — objecting to the DEC’s assertion of lead agency and seeking lead agency status.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos on July 29 issued his decision granting lead agency to the DEC.

On Sept. 29, the DEC determined the proposed mine expansion will not have a significant effect on the environment and an environmental impact statement is not required.

On Oct. 21, the DEC issued a notice of complete application, which means the agency has determined that it has everything it needs to make a decision on the application. To date, there has been no public disclosure of the application being granted.

The law firm of Thomas Volz has experience litigating on behalf of municipalities “in the same type of thing,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said yesterday before casting his vote in favor of hiring the firm.

“They’re very capable of doing a good job,” he said.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar agreed.

There is a four-month statute of limitations under Article 78 of the N.Y. State Civil Practice Law and Rules for challenges to final determinations of an agency.

The mine expansion proposal and the DEC’s handling of CMA’s application have been criticized by the Greater Calverton Civic Association.

Former councilwoman and former planning board chairwoman Barbara Blass told the board at an earlier meeting this month that the environmental assessment form filed by the applicant for a mined land reclamation permit contained inaccuracies. For instance, Blass said, the EAF stated that the mine site was not located in proximity to a landfill, when in fact it is immediately adjacent to the Town of Riverhead’s closed and capped landfill site.

In its Dec. 19 letter to the DEC objecting to DEC’s assertion of lead agency status, the town presented its serious concerns about the mine’s proximity to its landfill.

“For an unconfined aquifer, there is strong potential for the groundwater flow direction to move toward an exposed groundwater lake,” former town supervisor Laura Jens-Smith wrote in the letter. The creation of the groundwater lake would affect the hydrogeology such that groundwater flow and landfill leachate would be drawn toward the lake, according to the town’s analysis.

The town could be held responsible for any groundwater contamination that might occur and the town taxpayers’ potential financial exposure justifies granting lead agency to the town, Jens-Smith wrote.

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