By Martha E. Conway
(Town of Sullivan, NY – May 2012) The Sullivan Town Council enacted a moratorium on mineral resource extraction May 2 after a public hearing on the issue that evening. Attorney Scott Chatfield, special counsel to the town in connection with several cases involving J.B. Quarries and Subdivisions, Inc., and the town of Sullivan.
Chatfield gave an overview of a serious of lawsuits that began about 2006; he said two still are pending. Problems began, Chatfield said, with attempts at interpreting existing zoning laws.
“Twice we tried to amend them, and twice we were sued,” Chatfield said. “Faulty [State Environmental Quality Review Act process] was claimed to strike down those ordinances.”
He said on Feb. 23, 2012, the state Supreme Court Appellate Division Third Judicial Department said it couldn’t find language in the code prohibiting the extraction of mineral resources and that the town’s planning board should consider the application of J.B. Quarries and Subdivisions, Inc.
“There is a separate piece of litigation for a claim for non-conforming use to expand a non-conforming mine,” Chatfield said. “[State Court of Claims Judge Donald] Cerio’s decision is pending and not a part of this proposed moratorium.”
Chatfield said a legislative board elected by the people to represent the people has the authority to make laws to protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents.
“A moratorium is a relative short stop-gap action to allow time to fix a problem,” Chatfield said. “The legislative board must be actively engaged in addressing the problem. A moratorium can be extended, if necessary, and the court will closely inspect the rational for any requested extension. It is designed to maintain the status quo.”
According to Chatfield, the process is permitted to amend or resolve a problem situation. He said a panel is needed to review the problem and make recommendations; that panel should be constructed of planning professionals, residents and applicants, he said.
If the Third Department reverses itself, the moratorium is not needed, Chatfield said. If the problem is eradicated before expiration, the moratorium becomes null.
Donna McCarten and Cheryl Cary said they were against mining activities; McCarten said she wanted a moratorium against [the drilling process of hydraulic fracturing], as well. Cary asked about projections of production for the proposed quarry and said she was against any mining.
Dean Farley of Quarry Road expressed concerns about safety, pollution and air quality. He said he felt the town had an obligation to he and his neighbors because they allowed Quarry Road residents, through the permitting process, to build their neighborhood there.
Tom Oot, one of the J.B. Quarries/Subdivision, Inc., partners, said he was not opposed to the moratorium.
“I believe I told you years ago that your codes needed revision,” Oot said. “Eight years, three appeals … in applying this moratorium to our project constitutes obstruction, and I do not believe it should be applied to us.”
Les Woodcock said Quarry Road residents are the ones in Harm’s Way.
“We applaud the board for taking this action,” Woodcock said. “Our homes are there, our families are there. I feel very strongly about defending my family and home.”
“I know they have stuff invested, but there are 40 homes involved, and they are invested also,” said Bill Blanding. “We are concerned about danger, dust, noise. We know you’re in a difficult situation.”
“This moratorium is based on the decision of the Third Department,” said Mary Susan Lachlan. “We live adjacent to the existing quarry, and we fear the water table will be affected. It was when Santaro was going full bore. We purchased our home for safety and serenity.”
Lachlan said school buses have a crush zone in the rear – seats in which students are not allowed to sit in case of an accident. She said she also was afraid of the noise, dust and safety issues.
“The town has said ‘no’ at least three times,” said Peter Cann, also of Quarry Road. “Oot sued them and finally found a soft spot in the Third Department. The zoning is unclear. The town instituted a six-month moratorium when I tried to put up a windmill. I supported it.”
“I am vehemently opposed to a quarry in our neighborhood,” said Paul LeBlanc. “It should be obvious to anyone looking at the issue that it will adversely affect our lives: water quality, purity of air – it will be jeopardized by someone trying to make a few extra bucks.”
Venita Rogers said possible loss of life and water supply issues are the most compelling reasons for her objections.
Paul Ruben said potential problems with the quarry application are predictable and preventable. He said he wanted the aquifers protected.
“This is a hard decision to make,” said Councilman Tom Kopp. “I have worked with Tom Oot and Jay Johnson for many years and play golf with people on Quarry Road.”
Kopp said prior board decisions may have misled the applicants regarding the possibilities for their project, and said he was a part of that board.
“But a mining operation is not going to be very good up there at all,” Kopp said.
The board voted unanimously in favor of imposing the moratorium.
Martha E. Conway is vice president of M3P Media, LLC, and publisher of the Madison County Courier. She can be reached at 315.813.0124 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/marthaeconway or Facebook at facebook.com/meconway.