Court reserves decision on whether quarry mine needs further review
By Megan Plete Postol
The decision whether to mandate a formal hearing on the White Lake quarry project is on hold, pending a judge’s deliberations.
At issue: The Adirondack Park Agency’s (APA) decision to grant a permit to a hotly contested granite mine in the town of Forestport.
Adirondack White Lake Association (AWLA) and Protect the Adirondacks jointly filed a petition to request an adjudicatory hearing, a formal hearing that has judicial oversight and functions much like a trial.
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Attorney Todd Ommen, with law intern James Brody, of Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, represented the AWLA and Protect the Adirondacks. They argued that the APA’s January decision to approve the permit for Red Rock Quarry Associates LLC to operate the White Lake granite quarry was based on limited and false information. They further argued that the APA misinterpreted its own laws and an adjudicatory hearing should have been required before the final decision was made and the permit approved.
Judge Bernadette Romano declared, in the first in-person hearing session since the pandemic shut down Oneida County courts, that she wanted to conduct further review before making a final decision.
Romano asked the council from Pace when the last time a court-mandated adjudicatory hearing was held. Brody responded that his records indicated that the last time was more than a decade ago.
An adjudicatory hearing is not required when the project is slated for approval. It is required, however, when the permit is going to be denied.
The AWLA and Protect the Adirondacks believe that not only was the APA’s decision based on misinterpretation, it also was determined without significantly addressing some key issues, including noise assessment (which was based on state noise regulations), public easement and use of Stone Quarry Road and a lack of documentation of the location of the water table under the proposed mine site.
Romano stated that adjudicatory hearings are reserved for when significant legal issues are skimmed over or not thoroughly explored during the permitting process. She said she believes the APA is quite thorough and does a good job at protecting the environment. In addition, she noted that hundreds of mines already exist within the Adirondack Park, all requiring a permit, and that therefore the APA is an expert body in determining potential environmental impact.
The APA was represented by Lucas McNamara of the state Attorney General’s office, which argued that all decisions are based on conservative assumptions, taking into account noise impact and environmental concerns. Plus, the APA has strict liability standards imposed on permit grantees and conditions were placed on the permit granted the White Lake quarry. The APA believes that the determination of approval for the White Lake Quarry permit, and the process to that decision, was rational and requires no further exploration.
McNamara also stated that the agency does not employ the use of adjudicatory hearings to investigate issues, and that the issues brought up by the petitioners have already been addressed. He said that in the case of an adjudicatory hearing, the burden of proof falls on the AWLA and Protect the Adirondacks and not the APA.
Romano stated that she wants to conduct further review and examine the record carefully before she rules.