By Gwendolyn Craig
Members of the Adirondack White Lake Association told the Adirondack Park Agency board in January that they didn’t “plan on rolling over and playing dead” after the board issued a granite mining permit in northern Oneida County. Now, the association and Protect the Adirondacks are suing the agency and the quarry owner.
The complaint filed in State Supreme Court in Oneida County questions the agency’s more than decade-long drought on holding adjudicatory hearings on projects. Those are hearings that have judicial oversight and are the only way the APA can reject a project.
It also questions APA’s review of the project and whether staff should have required more studies on water-quality, environment, noise and engineering. Members of the lake association also said legal questions remain over the access of Stone Quarry Road, which leads to the granite mine.
“We got here because we felt we weren’t listened to,” said Louanne Cossa, president of the lake association. “We were labeled as confused and misinformed.”
Cossa, who is a seasonal resident on White Lake, has spent her summers there since 1957 when she was 4 years old. She remembered the rise of the APA and its mission to protect the park. Now, she said, it seems like any project can get through its doors.
“It’s not doing its job,” she said.
Keith McKeever, spokesman for the APA, said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Thomas Sunderlin Jr., owner of the quarry and the business Red Rock Quarry Associates, could not be reached for comment on Thursday. His engineer, David Shank of Strategic Mining Solutions, said on Thursday that he did not know about the litigation.
The quarry project
The APA conducted a rare two-day meeting in January to review Sunderlin’s quarry proposal. The agency had received more than 1,000 comments, most against the mining operation. The project is on 56.5 acres, with about 9 acres planned for mining.
The area was last mined in the 1930s, its granite used for the Proctor Memorial in Utica and the Bailey Fountain in Brooklyn, among other structures. Sunderlin’s application suggested his business would employ three to five people, with an overall payroll of $170,000 to $360,000.
In 2000, a similar mining proposal came before the APA. It didn’t pass the agency’s muster and now local residents wonder why the studies the board requested then were not requested now. APA staff said in January that the proposals were different.
Devan Korn, an APA environmental program specialist, said Red Rock Quarry Associates will not drill below the water table, something the last permit was proposing.
Ultimately the APA board modified the permit to reduce the hours for crushing activities, and then unanimously approved it.
The Forestport Planning Board has yet to sign off on the site plan. It is slated to meet on April 13.
At minimum, Cossa said, the town should wait on its approvals until the lawsuit is settled.
A hearing is scheduled for April 27 in Oneida County Supreme Court.
Residents worry that the spring-fed lake and their local wells could be harmed by the mining operation. They worry about dust, noise and truck traffic.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said mining during the height of tourist season will affect residents. Many of the studies submitted as part of the application were inadequate, he said.
Protect and the lake association are represented by the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic. In the March 15 complaint, Attorney Tom Ommen said the APA was legally mandated to hold an adjudicatory hearing and called for the permit to be vacated.
Ommen lists eight factors that can lead the APA to hold such a hearing, several of which he believed were relevant to the quarry permit. For example, the size and complexity of a project, the degree of public interest and the presence of significant issues are reasons for an adjudicatory hearing.
Korn and Chris Cooper, the APA’s counsel, did not provide the eight criteria for hearings to the APA board in January, the complaint notes. The lawsuit also says that APA board members“seemed confused” as evidenced by Chairman John Ernst’s questions. “There is no question that the confusion the Board Members expressed stemmed from the APA’s habit of refusing to hold a single adjudicatory public hearing in over a decade,” the complaint says.
Bauer pointed to how in its first 40 years the APA scheduled more than 150 projects for such hearings.
Also included in court records are affidavits from neighbors to the quarry, including Cossa, Steven Turczyn, Devan Cornish and Regina Balzano. Cornish and Balzano are also members of Protect. Cornish and his family use a camp next door to the mining project and have been there since 1981.
In his affidavit, Cornish said his grandmother, Shirley Cornish, plans to pass the camp to her family. As the sole beneficiary, Devan Cornish said he hopes to convey it to his two children, too. But he’s worried about its future should the mining project start, and seeks answers.