Firefighters battle a large mulch fire in Calverton through the night Sept. 2. Photo: Steve Beal

The site of a large mulch fire in Calverton Sept. 2 that took a dozen area fire departments all night to extinguish is under investigation by the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

DEC staff visited the facility on Sept. 2 and the agency’s investigation into the fire and potential state authorizations required by the facility is ongoing, the DEC said this week.

The site operator, Driftwood Family Farms, has no permit from the DEC to operate a solid waste management facility at the 42-acre property and no solid waste registration for the site, the DEC said. Mulch processing facilities generally must either have DEC registrations or permits, according to state Environmental Conservation Law and regulations. Whether a registration or permit is required depends on the amount of materials accepted by and stored on the site. Certain types of facilities are exempt from the registration/permit requirements.

The operator also has no site plan approval from the Town of Riverhead for a solid waste facility at that location, Town Attorney Erik Howard said.

Howard said the town would follow up with the DEC to decide whether further investigation by the town is warranted. “That being said, based upon recent events, we will be looking at the use of the property and the representations of the DEC,” Howard said.

Riverhead Fire Department Chief Joe Hartmann said mulch piles that caught fire last week were 20 to 30 feet high.

Howard said the town investigated that property for potential sand mining in or about 2013 but that investigation was “ultimately closed.” He said the town investigator Rich Downs reported the property owner subsequently “installed gates and cameras which frustrated further investigation/observation of the property.”

“I do see that a farm ‘grading’ permit was submitted in or about 2015, but was ultimately abandoned by the property owner,” Howard said in an email Tuesday.

Driftwood also filed applications for nonfarm uses at the site but ultimately did not finalize them or obtain permits.

The property owner applied to the DEC for a mining permit for the site in May 2012, but never completed the application, which expired in 2018, according DEC records.

Driftwood Family Farms purchased the former Zen farm at 3795 Middle Country Road in 2012, according to county land title records. Driftwood Family Farms applied to the Town of Riverhead for an excavation permit to remove more than 415,000 cubic yards of sand from the site — necessary, Driftwood owner Steven Mezynieski told the Town Board in May 2013, to eliminate slopes to make the land level enough for farming. Mezynieski asked the town for an agricultural exemption to waive the $2 per cubic yard fee imposed by the Riverhead town code for the exportation of soil.

Board members at the time were skeptical about the request for an agricultural exemption, since Mezynieski also owns Southampton Excavation.

“There’s no hidden agenda,” Mezynieski told the board in 2013. “We’re not doing strip-mining. The end result is a finished farm.” The Town Board never acted on the excavation permit application.

In December 2018, Driftwood Family Farms applied to the DEC for a solid waste management permit at the site, but withdrew the application as of April 2021, according to DEC online records. DEC staff commented on this application in October 2019 and the permit application was later withdrawn, the DEC told RiverheadLOCAL this week.

“A registration application was then received in July 2021 and DEC commented on this application in January 2022. No response from the facility was made to these comments and at no time were the permit or registration applications determined to be complete,” the DEC said through a spokesperson.

Mezynieski could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered the phone at Southampton Excavation Tuesday, when asked to give Mezynieski a detailed message, said, “Everything is already being taken care of and we don’t need any comments.” She did not identify herself and hung up.

Mezynieski is also the owner of CMA Mine on Osborn Avenue in Calverton. The town is in litigation with both the State DEC and CMA Mine over the company’s application to expand an existing mine 89 feet downward, which would penetrate the groundwater table.

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