The state Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating the developers of a planned Yaphank fish farm for allegedly mining more than 90,000 cubic yards of sand and dirt without a state permit.
The builders of Blue Green Farms, which has broken ground off Horseblock Road, deny having done any mining and say they have been preparing the site for greenhouses.
They were cited for unpermitted mining and issued a stop-work order in December 2010, DEC officials said. The developer responded that the work was exempt under state agricultural law, DEC officials said.
DEC investigators are looking into whether Blue Green Farm's claim is correct -- and whether the firm violated a stop work order after the first citation, said DEC spokesman Bill Fonda.
The agency is attempting to resolve the matter with Blue Green Farms, which could receive a fine or other punishment, Fonda said. Fonda said it appears "when the stop work order was issued, they had only taken out a certain amount, and they continued to take it out."
But the project's backers say the farm -- which is slated to grow tomatoes and raise sturgeon and striped bass -- has not engaged in mining.
The Yaphank-based company, which is owned by a group of local investors led by Leonard Shore, has done grading and site preparation, but not mining, said spokeswoman Judy White.
The work, which has included moving sand and dirt, is essential so the company can build 400,000 square feet of greenhouse space required for the project, she said.
"Blue Green Farms is currently undergoing site preparation for the greenhouses," White said.
Fonda said the DEC considers an activity a mine if it involves excavating more than 750 cubic yards of materials in 12 months. On a recent weekday, bulldozers were working the site, where piles of sand and dirt towered above a crater in the ground.
The project has polarized civic activists. Some see it as a chance for sustainable farming on Long Island and others think it is an excuse to mine and sell sand. White declined to comment on whether the company plans to sell the materials it excavates.
Blue Green Farms has launched the $35 million, 12-acre first phase of the project, a hydroponic farm. In early summer, workers plan to install 2,400 pilings that will be part of the foundation of the project, White said.
The facility, which totals 56 acres, is expected to expand in 2013 to include an aquaculture facility that will raise fish, company representatives have said.
Johan McConnell, president of the South Yaphank Civic Association, defended the operation. She said the company has "spent a tremendous amount of money" that it would never recoup by selling sand, and the farm is "just another form of farming."
But MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, chided the state for overlooking DEC concerns and awarding the project a $517,000 grant in recent months. She said that money could have gone to Long Island's working fishermen.
"What are we saying to our fishermen?" she said.