Residents opposing project mull options going forward
By Gwendolyn Craig
Despite thousands of public comments against a granite mining project on White Lake in Forestport, a town in northern Oneida County, the Adirondack Park Agency unanimously approved it Friday while adding more conditions to the times certain operations could occur.
This was the first major project before new APA Chair John Ernst, who conducted a rare two-day meeting to go over the public’s concerns. The decision to approve the project disappointed environmental organizations urging the agency to schedule the project for a public hearing.
The Adirondack White Lake Association, an opponent to the project, plans to meet to discuss its options.
“We don’t plan on rolling over and playing dead if the board is not prepared to do its job protecting the environment,” said Frank Cossa, husband of the association’s president Louanne Cossa.
The project by Red Rock Quarry Associates involves extracting granite for dimensional stone from about 9 acres in the area of Stone Quarry Road, with the White Lake Outlet at the southern edge.
The existing mine is owned by Thomas Sunderlin Jr. The area was last mined in the 1930s, where its granite was used for iconic buildings and monuments including the Proctor Memorial in Utica and the Bailey Fountain in Brooklyn, records show. The renewed quarry is expected to employ between three and five people with an overall payroll between $170,000 and $360,000 depending on market conditions, according to the APA.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation also has oversight of the project, and it coordinated its permit review with the APA, an unusual process that has not often been done, which board members noted was termed helpful for addressing concerns and comments from the public.
The Town of Forestport Planning Board tabled its review until the APA made its final decision. The town still needs to approve the quarry as a commercial use under its site review law.
Devan Korn, an environmental program specialist for the APA, said the agency received more than 300 comments during the official comment period. The agency also received more than 1,400 form letters against the project and more than 1,400 petition signatures.
The Adirondack White Lake Association hired the LA Group, an engineering firm, to review the application and provide recommendations. The association and Protect the Adirondacks hired Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic of White Plains. Both the LA Group and the litigation clinic discovered flaws in the application and called on the APA to hold a public hearing.
For it to disapprove an application, the APA board must send a project to a hearing presided by a judge. The board hasn’t sent a project to an adjudicatory hearing in about a decade, drawing sharp criticism from groups including Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.
David Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve said the APA has substituted findings of fact with a yes/no permit form.
“Since 2020, no impacts are ever identified in the major permits you have issued,” Gibson said. “When project impacts and findings are kept hidden in a permit, that is not good government transparency.”
State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, wrote to the APA that “concerns need to be addressed before a project can move forward.”
Residents registered concerns about noise, dust pollution and traffic. Many worried about the water-quality of White Lake and their drinking water wells.
Korn said Red Rock Quarry Associates will not drill below the water table, and thus water-quality would not be impacted. Under the DEC’s permit, the mining operator must monitor the water table levels and submit reports monthly for two years to the DEC. The DEC also requires seismograph monitoring to measure the force of the mining blasts.
No water table tests or sound studies were done for the APA’s permit, although staff toured the site. The nearest home is 570 feet, and Korn said that distance is buffered by trees and a ridge of bedrock. He suggested the noise from the mining operation would be minimal for those living nearby. A sound assessment was part of the DEC’s permit, which listed noise levels for different mining activities. That assessment noted project activities’ noise levels would be equivalent to a normal conversation or background music for most residences in the area.
Conditions in place
APA staff put conditions on the five-year mine operating permit. Mineral extraction will occur from April 1 to Oct. 31, except for major holidays. There are limits to the blasting charge intensity and no more than 20 truck trips per day.
Board members spent over an hour discussing the hours of operation for blasting, drilling and crushing. Kisha Santiago-Martinez, representative on the APA board for the state Department of State, said she would prefer the hours of operation started later in the morning. Board member Art Lussi also wanted later and fewer hours to accommodate second-home owners and tourists.
Crushing activities were originally slated to begin as early as 7 a.m. and end as late as 6 p.m. By Friday’s meeting, the APA tightened that to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Adirondack White Lake Association member Deborah Dempsey addressed the board during the virtual public comment portion following the board’s vote. Though her face was not visible, she sounded as though she was holding back tears. She called the staff’s presentation biased and lacking information on the potential noise and water-quality impacts.
She said the board validated her belief that it did not have enough information to make a decision because members changed the crushing hours of operation despite staff’s opinion that the noise would not be disruptive. Dempsey also worried about the water table and surrounding wells and did not feel the DEC’s monthly tests were enough.
“The wait-and-see approach stands to destroy what so many have worked hard to obtain,” Dempsey said. She asked the agency to reverse its decision.
Louanne Cossa told the board that she was disappointed that no hydrology or noise studies were done. “Now for the next five years we have to monitor, because who is really going to monitor?” she said.
Board members mostly praised their decision during the member comment. Ken Lynch and Lussi commended staff for addressing all the public comments.
Dan Wilt, chair of the regulatory programs committee that first passed the project, said it was a challenging review. “But we need to follow the law,” Wilt said. “I think the important topics were covered. I’m sorry there’s some misconceptions on how some of the things were done. I really think staff and Devan (Korn) did the best job that could be done.”
“I do think there are matters of fact and then issues of the heart,” Santiago-Martinez said. “I’m glad we applied some conditions that are more matters of the heart.”
APA board member Andrea Hogan was absent.
This story has been updated to clarify that a sound assessment was done for the DEC’s permit.
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