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Hearing airs concerns over gravel mine proposal

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TAGHKANIC–The town Zoning Board of Appeals convened a hearing Monday evening at the firehouse to receive public comments on a proposal by Berry Pond LLC of New York to conduct a gravel mining operation on Livingston Road near Route 82 in West Taghkanic. The applicant’s lawyer said the mine would have little impact on the community, but residents who live near the proposed site see nothing but trouble ahead if officials grant a permit for the project.

Berry Pond has received a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and now needs only the approval of the town ZBA before commencing its surface mine operation. That prospect drew over 60 residents to attend the January 18 hearing.

Also present in the front row was the applicant, Alyson Bennett, owner of the 81-acre site under consideration for the mine as well as an adjacent 28-acre site. She brought with her a geologist, an engineer, her lawyer and a stenographer.

Ms. Bennett’s attorney, Kevin Bernstein, said that the proposed “low intensity” mining operation, which would require only a loader and bulldozer, would have a minimal impact on the environment and “no detrimental effect on human health.” He described the road over which trucks would travel to and from the site as “able to handle extra traffic” and said that “no dust will leave the site.”

A small surface mine operated at the site in the past.

But several residents expressed doubt about the applicant’s assertions and questioned the accuracy of documents the applicant submitted to the DEC, in particular the number of residents living on the road. They said that the application also failed to address the likelihood that 35-ton trucks making 60 daily trips would be driving along a narrow, curvy and occasionally steep country road, where houses sit within a stone’s throw of passing vehicles.

Residents said that while the Berry Pond application to the DEC discussed noise and dust from the mining operation, it neglected the noise, dust, fumes, fuel storage and safety issues associated with truck traffic, a major part of any mining operation.

“We don’t believe DEC actually researched…their application at all,” said resident Deborah Colgrove. She said that the applicant had used an out-of-date map that was misleading, since it only showed a fraction of the 20 or more houses that now exist on the road.  “Any way you look at it, it is a far cry from the map the mine submitted to DEC for the area to be declared ‘unpopulated’,” said Ms. Colgrove.

Livingston Road, according to residents who went out and measured the width, is not as wide as the applicants say it is.  Whether the road is wide enough or strong enough to accommodate the size and weight of up to 60 trips a day, whether a truck and a school bus could pass each other safely, or whether the road, which lacks shoulders, would be safe in all weather were among the other concerns repeatedly raised by residents accustomed to using the road for biking, jogging, walking, taking their dogs for a walk or pushing baby carriages, none of which they will be able to do if the mine goes into operation.

William Better, an attorney from Kinderhook, said he usually works for developers but was at the hearing representing Chris and Lee Ann McNally, who live close to the mine site on nearby Taghkanic Road. He advised the ZBA that it couldn’t widen Livingston Road unless it condemns private property on either side or wins permission from property owners along the road to have a wider roadway encroach on their land. As for the town asking roadside residents to voluntarily give up land for a wider road, Mr. Better said, “I know what the answer from most will be.”

The applicant’s financial viability was another issue raised, with some critics saying that the applicant is behind in property tax and escrow payments, and has gone through two mortgage foreclosures.

The mining company is required by the DEC to post a bond for reclamation of the land after the mine closes.

Mr. Better said the town zoning code has inconsistencies that the ZBA must consider before making its determination on the project. He also suggested that town may have to ask the county Planning Board to review the proposal, saying that the failure to give the county a say might lay the groundwork for an appeal of the ZBA’s decision.

During the past three years Taghkanic has been hammering out a comprehensive plan that lays out overall guidelines for land use and development. That process has included surveying  a large number of the residents of this small, rural town to determine what they value most about their community–characteristics like scenic beauty, peace, quiet and agricultural traditions. Many of those who responded emphasized that the town’s zoning code is supposed to protect those attributes along with property values and the town’s water resources. Critics of the mining proposal believe those attributes in particular will suffer if the mine opens in what is perhaps the most densely populated area of Taghkanic.

Former Town Board member Erin Edwards, who lives close to the mine site, addressed the zoning board, saying, “The intent of the zoning law is to protect residents’ property. I hope you will fight for the residents of this town.” In closing she warned ZBA members James Romaine and Mark Stickles that their refusal to recuse themselves, in light of the fact that they also live close to the property in question, could open the procedure to appeal in the future. Board member Robert Rochler, who lives close to the site, has recused himself.

Town Supervisor Betty Young, and Town Councilwoman Carolyn Sammons, who live close to the site of the proposed mine, attended the session but did not offer comments.

Another hearing was scheduled for February 17 to give ZBA members a chance to consider new information. The town Planning Board, said board member Erik Tyree, has issued an advisory opinion expressing concern about the viability of the road for a mining operation.

Ms. Bennett, the Berry Pond principal, declined to speak to The Columbia Paper, saying she had seen “inaccuracies in the press” in the past, reportedly involving another newspaper. 

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