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Riverhead sues state DEC over decision to allow sand mine expansion

Riverhead Town officials have filed an Article 78

Riverhead Town officials have filed an Article 78 motion against the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Southampton-based CMA Mine LLC, which seeks to build an 8.5-acre lake to a maximum depth of 89 feet below groundwater.     Credit: Randee Daddona

Riverhead officials have filed a lawsuit accusing the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation of failing to check with them on whether mining was prohibited at a proposed site for a sand mine expansion project in Calverton.

The town filed an Article 78 motion on Jan. 26 in state Supreme Court against the DEC and CMA Mine LLC, the Southampton-based company that applied for a mining modification permit in February 2019 to build an 8.5-acre lake to a maximum depth of 89 feet below groundwater at a mine at the corner of Youngs and Osborne avenues.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said Tuesday that after the DEC was granted lead agency status on the project in July 2020 — allowing the agency to determine whether the proposed lake would cause any negative environmental, traffic or community impacts — that the DEC was to ensure the town board that any concerns its members had regarding potential impacts of the sand mine expansion project "were given due consideration."

In the lawsuit, the town stated that Riverhead officials felt the mine expansion into and through groundwater had "the potential to cause or exacerbate contamination from toxic organic compounds, nutrients, salts and other pollutants."

When the DEC in September issued the project a negative SEQRA declaration — which found no negative environmental impacts — without notifying the town beforehand or during the process , Aguiar said the town took legal action so the negative declaration could be reversed.

"I find the duties and responsibilities of the DEC conflicting," Aguiar said Tuesday. "The DEC is charged with protecting our water supply, and at the same time, supports land mining. There is a sheer conflict in this regard. We also need to ensure we maintain clean and safe water, while protecting our aquifers from damage."

The town wants "a proper review and issuance of a positive declaration" and that no further processing of the application occurs until the agency complies with New York State environmental laws mandating that the DEC checks with Riverhead first to determine whether the town’s zoning laws allow such mining at the Calverton site, Aguiar said.

DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo said in a statement Tuesday that while the agency could not comment on pending litigation that it followed "rigorous environmental reviews of sand mining proposals" and provided "strict oversight of operations."

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