ANCRAM—Is it a gravel mine or a land regrading project?
That’s what Ancram Planning Board members have to figure out before they can determine if a proposed plan is permissible under town zoning law pertaining to projects in the Scenic Corridor Overlay Zone.
An application dated May 5 of this year has been under consideration by the Ancram Planning Board for the past few months.
The current application filed by Fred Schneeberger, owner/operator of G & S Excavating, Inc., in Ancramdale seeks a site plan review for an excavation project to remove a knoll in a farm field on the east side of Route 22. Mr. Schneeberger is acting on behalf of John Langdon, a Copake farmer who leases the 108 acres of land on which the knoll is located.
Anthony Palumbo is the landowner. He also owns the Palumbo Block Company, Inc., in Dover Plains, Dutchess County, which is a supplier of concrete products.
Mr. Palumbo applied to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for a permit to operate a gravel mine on the property in 2003, but was turned down.
Mr. Langdon has been farming the land for about 20 years, alternately growing soybean and feed corn.
The current application says the purpose of the project is to remove the knoll to make the terrain safer for the operation of farm machinery.
A letter with no visible date from Mr. Langdon to Jami June at the DEC, contained among the application documents, says, “the knoll in question has always been a problem. With machinery in the farming industry constantly getting bigger, including my own, the knoll is becoming a greater danger to traverse given its slope.”
A letter dated June 16 of this year from DEC Region 4 Mined Land Reclamation Specialist June to Mr. Palumbo says that based on a review of the materials provided for the Langdon Farm Crop Land regrading Plan, “it appears that the planned excavation will be conducted solely in aid of agricultural activities and is necessary to reduce steep slopes to facilitate the operation of farm equipment and enhance the agricultural usability of the land.”
The regrading project involves the removal of 25,000 cubic feet of sand and gravel over 15 months. All the excavated material would be delivered to Mr. Palumbo’s block factory in Dover. The excavation area would amount to about three acres according to the application and will involve the use of three to four trucks making an average of six round trips from Ancram to Dover per day between the hours of 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The project site work would be suspended for the three months of winter.
‘We need to know which laws we are following.’
Ancram Planning Board
The excavation of sand and gravel would appear to fit the Environmental Conservation Law (Article 23 Mineral Resources) definition of mining, “…the extraction of overburden and minerals from the earth…” But the law goes on to say, “Mining shall not include … excavations in aid of agricultural activities.”
Whether the project is or is not a gravel mine matters because it is located in the town’s Scenic Corridor Overlay Zone (SCOZ), so designated to “preserve the scenic beauty along New York State Route 22 and the Harlem Valley for the enjoyment of residents, commuters, recreational users and tourists.”
Prohibited uses in the SCOZ include “extractive operations and soil mining or excavation of minerals at a threshold that would require [a DEC] permit in accordance with New York State Mined Land Reclamation Law.”
At the same time there is a passage in the SCOZ ordinance which says that in keeping with state Right to Farm Laws, “all farming operations and uses necessary to the operation of a farm are exempt from the development standards and site plan review requirements set forth in the Scenic Corridor Overlay Zone.” But the list of farming operations makes no mention of excavation.
Deputy Town Supervisor and Zoning Guru Councilman Hugh Clark told The Columbia Paper this week that the SCOZ was established by local law in 2003 and was later incorporated into the Zoning Law in 2020. The town adopted a Right To Farm Law in 2016.
At the Planning Board’s August 5 meeting, Carol Falcetti, who chairs a group of Boston Corner residents who are project neighbors, pointed out that in order for the excavation to be allowed in the SCOZ, the applicant must provide “substantive evidence that the project has to be necessary to farm operation.”
The group submitted a petition signed by 26 people to the Planning Board in June requesting that the Ancram Planning Board deny the Schneeberger application “because the application clearly states that it is an application to mine gravel… which is prohibited in the Scenic Corridor Overlay Zone.”
Others in opposition to the project asked the board to require an engineering report evaluating the amount of gravel that needs to be removed to make the knoll safe and to require performance bonds to make sure the project is completed and the area reclaimed.
Planning Board member Erin Robertson said that a letter from the Columbia County Planning Department weighing in on the project mentions that the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) section of the application is not accurate because there is a protected wetland and endangered animal habitat on the property and that the “agricultural data is not complete.”
Applicant Schneeberger debated the opposition group’s calculations about timing and the amount of truck traffic coming and going from the site daily.
Planning Board member Bob Roche said he had actually farmed the field in question many years ago and that it was “a hairy ride headed down over that hill” on a combine.
Later in the meeting, questions arose about whether or not the application was simply under site plan review or if it required a special use permit.
Ms. Robertson said more information needs to be submitted and “we need to know which laws we are following.”
Planning Board Chair John Ingram said the board should not follow gravel mine laws since the project “is an excavation.”
At the end of the session, the board voted unanimously to close the public hearing while leaving open a 15-day comment period. In the interim, Mr. Ingram said he would consult with counsel about some of the issues raised.
To contact Diane Valden email email@example.com