Quarry plan scrutiny to be restricted

The state environmental conservation commissioner has denied a request from mine expansion opponents

The state environmental conservation commissioner has denied a request from mine expansion opponents who sought to include the original Schoharie quarry area as part of Cobleskill Stone Product’s application to expand its limestone quarry.

Determining that previous permits and reviews had essentially covered the original quarry site, Commissioner Pete Grannis ruled “there is no basis for requiring another environmental review in this case.”

Grannis’ decision opens the door for a state administrative judge to decide what issues will be used to determine whether the quarry will be granted a permit to add another 69 acres to the current 86-acre operation.

“We’re disappointed by the decision but not surprised,” said John Poorman, chairman of Save Our Schoharie, the citizens group that, along with town and village officials, had sought to widen the review to consider areas that had been previously allowed, or “grandfathered.”

Cobleskill Stone Products President Emil Galasso said the decision backs his position.

“There never was a basis for ‘ungrandfathering’ the quarry,” Galasso said. “It was just a smokescreen to cause us more aggravation.”

Even if the DEC grants a permit to expand the mine near the village and town line east of state Route 30, town land-use regulations adopted in 2005 still prohibit it without obtaining a local special-use variance.

The DEC’s regional staff also recommended against an expansion permit.

A lawsuit by Cobleskill Stone challenging the validity of the town’s regulations is still on hold.

“That was an agreement between the attorneys to wait until this was decided,” Galasso said.

Grannis’ ruling, signed June 26, comes more than a year after public hearings in February and June of 2007 on the stone company’s plan.

DEC Administrative Law Judge Kevin J. Casutto postponed ruling on the issues for a permit decision last fall after expansion opponents requested the review be extended to include the original 45 acres of the quarry. The quarry has operated under varying ownerships since the late 1800s.

“A ruling by the administrative law judge was held in abeyance until this petition for ‘ungrandfathering’ was decided,” DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said Monday.

“Now that it has been determined, the [judge] will now review the issues … and the issues will be decided,” Wren said.

Among the chief concerns are noise, dust and impact on the community’s character if the quarry is allowed to expand, according to Poorman.

Noting that Grannis indicated that the existing quarry “has really been subjected to the environmental process” since 1995, Poorman said “the way I read it, it is covered. … So, we don’t have to ungrandfather the existing quarry.”

“The goal is for the existing quarry to comply with environmental law, so we have every reason to be hopeful,” Poorman said.

“It’s very significant,” Galasso said Friday about Grannis’ ruling. “The commissioner clearly explained that all of these issues have been looked at three times … and they failed to prove that there was a problem,” Galasso said.

“Because the 45-acre mine was in continuous operation prior to the effective date of [the state Environmental Quality Review Act], it was exempt from SEQR’s requirements, or ‘grandfathered,’ ” Grannis determined.

Grannis’ decision noted that the Cobleskill Stone Products’ quarry had been required in 1992 to “address certain environmental conditions … including setbacks, backfilling, and sloping …”

Permission for a 1995 expansion increasing the 45-acre quarry to its present 86 acres required reclamation of the old quarry and provisions to control dust escaping from the site, according to Grannis.

Noting that the original 45-acre part of the quarry has been mined out “there is nothing left to be reviewed in the grandfathered portion of the mine that has not already been studied and subject to conditions,” Grannis wrote in his seven-page decision.

No schedule has yet been set to continue the decision on expansion issues, according to DEC officials.

Categories: Schenectady County

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