TAGHKANIC–The Town Board has adopted a six-month moratorium on permits for new gravel mines, after residents raised concerns about a proposal for a mine on Livingston Road.
The board made the decision on the moratorium at the first regular meeting of the year, Tuesday, February 1. And while the agenda included numerous other matters, including what the new highway superintendent said are record-keeping and repair problems with town roads and equipment, the board took up these issues with no outward signs of the bitter political battle that delayed the outcome of November’s election until last month.
The five board members, other officials and at least 30 town residents at the session heard a letter from from town residents Thomas Mirabelli and Linda Swartz about the gravel mine application by Berry Pond LLC and Allison Bennett. The letter writers said there are inaccuracies and omissions in materials the applicants submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation about population density and the condition, grade, width and curves of Livingston Road. Mr. Mirabelli and Ms. Swartz also wrote that applicant did not properly address the ongoing economic burden that such an operation would create for town taxpayers.
Attorney William Better, the lawyer for two residents who live near the site of the proposed gravel mine, said that he has identified a discrepancy in the town zoning code that will create grounds for an appeal in the future if the mine is approved by the town. “The issue of inconsistency is not going to go away because my client asked me not to let it,” he said.
Mr. Better suggested that the board adopt a 6-month moratorium on approving any mine permits, saying that would allow the board time to amend the local zoning law to clear up the ambiguity. “The town can adopt a moratorium even in the case of an active application. Do what’s right to take care of residents, and fix it. It’s fair to everybody involved in the process,” Mr. Better said.
He questioned whether the local land use ordinance allows surface mines on two- and three-acre residential parcels. If mining is not allowed in the R2 or R3 zones, “That would be an end to the Berry Pond application,” said Mr. Better.
“A moratorium cannot be made to stop a particular applicant,” said Town Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons, who said that if the town does temporarily halt consideration of mining applications, “Berry Pond LLC will probably appeal a moratorium on the basis that they have vested rights, having already invested thousands of dollars in the application process.” He said the applicants can appeal the decision on a moratorium through the Town Board and pursue the case in state court if the board rebuffs them.
Town Board member Richard Skoda said there could be legal challenges no matter what the board does.
Addressing concerns expressed by residents who complained that they did not receive adequate notification about the mine proposal from the DEC and had only 30 days to respond, Mr. Fitzsimmons said, “The applicant will have to address our issues of concern.” The town’s attorney also said that “the DEC can’t issue the final permit until the town is finished with its process.”
Newly elected Town Board member Larry Kadish proposed a six-month moratorium on mining, and the proposal was adopted without opposition. Supervisor Betty Young and board member Carolyn Sammons recused themselves, because they live near the proposed mine site. The issue will be discussed at the next Town Board meeting.
In other business:
*The board chose a nine-member zoning commission to be chaired by board member Joyce Thompson.
Tom Youhas, the town’s new highway superintendent, spoke about what he believes are serious and chronic problems with the town’s roads, equipment and garage. He explained the need for computerized record keeping, saying that he was surprised that records had not be been kept in the past. He plans to use spread sheets to track expenses, repairs, maintenance and the highway budget.
The board decided to put plans for a new town hall on the back burner in order to make needed improvements in the highway facilities. If the crew has a place to work, they might be able to do more of their own truck maintenance and repair work, said Mr. Skoda.
The town’s trucks are in unstable condition, and Mr. Youhas has explored whether it would be wiser to buy a new truck instead of repairing the two that are now in the shop awaiting major work. With some overtime and the possibility of help from the county, the crew might get through the winter without the trucks that are out of service, he said.
*Mr. Fitzsimmons reported that Alan Wilzig has filed an appeal to last month’s decision by a state Supreme Court judge, who issued an injunction that prevents Mr. Wilzig from using the motorcycle track he built on his Post Hill Road property. Mr. Wilzig has also filed a motion requesting a modification of the injunction to allow some use of the track.
*At the meeting the board also discussed: insurance for firemen; outdoor wood-burning furnaces; the closing of Reservoir Road to protect the City of Hudson’s water supply; a recommendation that the town zoning address airstrips and cell towers when it revisits mining code; vandalism at Town Hall that left all four plate-glass windows across the front of the building broken.
At the end of the meeting the board went into executive session to discuss real estate assessments.
Town officials expect to attend a meeting at noon this Monday, February 8, at Ancram Town Hall to discuss new cell towers in southeastern Columbia County. Rep. Scott Murphy (D-20th) is expected to attend.