Schoharie County

Group opposes settlement allowing Schoharie quarry to expand

Residents of Schoharie concerned about a local stone quarry’s expansion plans are petitioning agains
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Residents of Schoharie concerned about a local stone quarry’s expansion plans are petitioning against a proposed settlement in a decade-old lawsuit between the town and the stone company.

The proposal would allow expansion of Cobleskill Stone Product’s limestone quarry off Rickard Hill Road, at the northern edge of the village of Schoharie, although current town zoning bars it.

The tentative legal settlement between the town of Schoharie and Cobleskill Stone has drawn the opposition of Save Our Schoharie, a citizens group.

“It’s essentially a complete surrender by the town,” said Peter Johnson, Save Our Schoharie’s treasurer.

The petition, found at www.change.org, had 425 signatures as of Monday, Johnson said.

Headlined “Save Schoharie! Stop Quarry Expansion Before Its Too Late!”, the petition argues that many “concessions” by the stone company in the proposed settlement are things state regulations require anyway, and the mining’s overall impact on the community would be negative.

“This does not give any voice to the people of Schoharie,” Johnson said.

The town and Cobleskill Stone have been locked in litigation since 2005, when Cobleskill Stone sought to expand into a new section of land and the Town Board responded by changing its zoning to prohibit mining expansion. Cobleskill Stone sued over the zoning change.

In February 2014, state Supreme Court Justice Eugene P. Devine ruled in favor of Cobleskill Stone, finding that the 2005 zoning changes were invalid, because of violations of state environmental review rules. The town corrected the errors and readopted the zoning last year.

In March 2015, an appellate-level court ruled that Cobleskill Stone was entitled to a judicial hearing on whether it had a “vested” right to expand its operation, despite the zoning law.

A landowner can have a “vested” right based on previous investment. Cobleskill Stone argued in court that it had invested more than $1 million, including buying the land, engineering studies and developing an environmental assessment.

Johnson says that if the town kept fighting the lawsuit, it would win on the merits after a hearing.

Cobleskill Stone now mines an 87-acre property not far from the Schoharie Central School, and wants to expand mining to an adjoining 69 acres of property. The settlement would allow at least part of that expansion to proceed, assuming it also gets state approvals.

The Town Board is discussing settling the case without the participation of Town Supervisor Chris Tague, a Republican who was elected supervisor last November. Tague is general manager of Cobleskill Stone, and has recused himself from participation in settlement talks.

Town Board member Alan Tavenner, who has led the Town Board settlement discussions, could not be reached for comment.

Cobleskill Stone has a mining expansion application under review by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which must issue a permit for the expansion.

Under the proposed settlement, which is available for review on the town website, the town would agree that Cobleskill Stone has a right to expand its operations, though in a smaller area than it wanted to use in its 2005 application.

Rickard Hill Road, which separates the current mining operation from the proposed expansion area, would be relocated, with Cobleskill Stone paying the cost.

Also under the settlement, the stone company would agree to enclose and insulate crusher buildings to reduce noise and dust, and would eventually — within 30 years — relocate those buildings to the interior of their property.

The stipulation also says that the company would agree to a 600-foot buffer area along Warner Hill Road, and would agree not to challenge the revised zoning law the Town Board adopted in 2015, following Judge Levine’s ruling.

Town officials, in the draft settlement agreement, said the town has spent $500,000 fighting the lawsuit over the last decade, and would spend more if the litigation continued or the 2015 zoning law were challenged by Cobleskill Stone.

Opponents of the mining are being urged to attend the next Town Board meeting, which is 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, at Town Hall on Main Street.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: -News-, Business

Leave a Reply