The founder of a citizens group that’s campaigned against a local mine expansion fears a recent court ruling could dissuade people from standing up for causes they find important.
Schoharie resident John Poorman, founder of Save Our Schoharie Inc., or SOS, is being compelled to hand over documents and submit to interviews from lawyers representing Cobleskill Stone Products Inc. in an 8-year-old court battle rooted in the company’s quest to expand its Schoharie Quarry.
In a Feb. 15 ruling, state Supreme Court Justice Eugene P. Devine rejected a motion by Poorman’s attorney seeking to quash a subpoena requiring Poorman to hand over documents and submit to a deposition as part of pretrial discovery.
The company is suing the town of Schoharie, which used a new zoning code as cause to reject mining on the 69-acre parcel near Rickard Hill Road.
SOS, a group of about 100 residents living around the mine, became formally involved in the issue in 2007 when it petitioned the state Department of Environmental Conservation for “full party status” in the proceedings.
SOS members are concerned about dust and noise from an expanded mine and its impact on the view, traffic and other quality-of-life issues.
Since legal action ensued in Supreme Court, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has taken no action on the permit — it remains in limbo in the DEC’s administrative law court.
Both parties are preparing for a trial slated for October, and Cobleskill Stone’s attorneys are seeking a massive trove of documents and communication Poorman believes is beyond the scope of the trial itself.
The subpoena, approved recently by Devine, requests Poorman hand over any documents or communications he possesses related to comprehensive plan changes dating back to 1997 and any of Poorman’s actions or communications related to zoning and planning in the town and village of Schoharie dating back to 1975.
It further requests copies of e-mails, notes and correspondence involving any member of SOS including minutes of any meetings, photos, videos, FOIL requests, notes taken at meetings, meeting attendance sheets, bills and communications with the DEC and village or town officials or their representatives, among other items.
Poorman’s attorney, John J. Henry, contended in court papers that the issue headed to trial revolves around whether the mining company had a vested right to dig into its land despite town zoning changes that prohibit it. Henry argued in court papers that the company is requesting all of Poorman’s information “to harass him in retaliation for his opposition to the mine.”
Cobleskill Stone’s attorney Rosemary Stack of Syracuse could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In court documents, Stack contends Poorman provided the town of Schoharie with information and contends he may be the only source of information the company needs to know before going to trial.
Poorman on Tuesday said he intends to comply with the subpoena but he is concerned with the “chilling impact on our group or any group that has some sense that something is confidential.”
“It’s hard to fathom how membership lists, who contributed how much and when ... how it could have any relevance to the [lawsuit] filed in 2005, I don’t know,” he said.