By Colin Hogan
A group of Granby residents is asking state regulators to prevent the expansion of a gravel mine on county Route 85.
Syracuse Sand and Gravel, which owns the pit, has asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for permission to expand the mine’s pond size from 32.1 to 46.6 acres.
About 60 residents living in the vicinity of the mine, though, sent a petition to the DEC saying that even at its current size, the operation is harming their properties with water pollution and unacceptable levels of noise and dust.
Christine Bassett, of county Route 85, said this is just the latest in an ongoing struggle she and her neighbors are having with state regulators over the mine’s operations.
“They have been very non-communicative. We were calling the DEC complaining about dust, they said ‘don’t call us anymore’ and instead gave us a point person with the company. They have not called us at all or communicated at all with us on this problem, and it’s a major issue,” Bassett said. “It’s like the louder we get and the more we protest, the more we get deflected.”
In a letter to the DEC, which accompanied the petition, residents say they are “strongly opposed” to the proposed expansion, citing a variety of impacts the operation has already caused at its current size.
Topping the list is that the assessment made of nearby residents’ water wells, which was performed in October 2012, is not current, and does not reflect the status of their drinking water.
The letter — which is signed by Bassett and fellow county Route 85 residents James Kush and Lynn Lyons — states that if Bassett’s well were to be examined today, it would show “evidence of substantially increased sediment in water.”
For the last couple years, the Bassetts have had to change their in-house sediment filter “at least every two weeks.” Prior to that time, they only had to change it every couple months, according to the letter.
Bassett, who has lived in her home for 35-plus years, describes her filter as “usually jet black with sediment” after two week’s time lately. She said in prior years, before it needed to be changed so often, it would come out only “slightly gray.”
Another nearby household, owned by the Lyons family, reported on Dec. 20 that their water supply has been “discolored with a visibly yellowish hue,” according to the letter.
The letter also states that the water assessment failed to take into account wells of many households located downhill from the mine.
The residents also “protest the current and ongoing lack of dust control” on trucks traveling from the mine.
“Dust and rocks dragged by the trucks from the bed onto county Route 85 (and into our yards and homes) have been unresolved and increasing problems for year,” the letter states.
In response to earlier complaints about the dust, DEC officials told Syracuse Sand and Gravel it needed to install a truck wheel wash at the site. Granby Town Supervisor Ed Williamson said it was his understanding that the wheel wash was supposed to be installed by the end of January.
Syracuse Sand and Gravel Supervisor Tim Harrison said Monday that the wheel wash is currently on site, but has not yet been installed. He said the company was told by the DEC to have it installed by March, and is waiting to do so until the air temperatures aren’t so cold.
“Even if we installed it right now, you can’t run it, because the water would freeze,” Harrison said.
Harrison noted that, because the ground is currently frozen, the trucks aren’t carrying nearly as much dirt on their wheels. The pit’s activity has also been very slow in January, with only about 20 truckloads leaving all month, he said.
Harrison said the company and the drivers who travel from the mine adhere to the state’s laws on covering loads to manage dust.
“It’s really an open law, and it’s the driver’s discretion whether they tarp loads or not,” Harrison said, adding that a cover is usually only necessary when hauling sand.
“The only loads in question would be when we haul sand out of there, and all those loads get covered,” he said.
A request for comment to the DEC’s regional office was not returned as of press time Monday.
Williamson said he has also sent a letter to the DEC requesting that, in keeping with his residents’ wishes, any permit issued stipulate that the mine not operate on weekends or outside of the hours 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays; that drivers be required to keep the roads clean; and that truck traffic on town roads be as limited as possible.
He said he is also wary of the company digging below the water table.
Williamson called the matter “a tough situation,” saying he has strong sympathy for the affected residents, but also noting that “business is progress.”