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Plant opponents celebrate as DEC judges ‘ungrandfather’ SLC mine

HUDSON (N.Y.) -- In a closely-watched ruling today, two judges dealt a strong setback to St. Lawrence Cement, recommending that the company’s 1200-acre Becraft Mountain mine should be “ungrandfathered” for the purposes of the State’s Environmental Quality Review (SEQRA).

The 45-page decision from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) administrative law judges (ALJs) Helene Goldberger and Maria Villa states:
"We find that in response to SLC’s application for the Greenport project, the mine should be ungrandfathered in order to adequately assess mining impacts for this application. As shown above, for decades, the mine has not operated at its former full capacity which, in any case, never reached the levels now proposed."
The company had argued that impacts from its vast potential quarrying operations, such as noise, should be excluded from the review of the project. But Goldberger and Villa side with attorneys for the alliance of groups challenging, including Jeff Baker (Friends of Hudson), Marc Gerstman (Hudson Valley Preservation Coalition), and John Caffry (The Olana Partnership).

Attorney Baker said on Monday, “Working together, the intervenors proved that SLC had not continued the permits once granted to Universal Atlas. We demonstrated that the mine has been dormant for a very long time. SLC’s presumption that they could mine the full 1200 acres was a fallacy, since the extent of the mining is dramatically different than anything that had been approved prior to the enactment of SEQRA.”

The dispute over the status of the mine goes back almost exactly four years, to the earliest days of the cement plant controversy. At a DEC “scoping hearing” held at 401 State Street in Hudson on June 24, 1999, Friends of Hudson executive director Sam Pratt said that “What is now a hill would be turned into a crater or a lake. That’s clearly an environmental impact, and I call on St. Lawrence to voluntarily withdraw their claim that ‘the mine is not a part of the action.’”

“By resisting this common-sense decision for four years, St. Lawrence Cement only delayed the inevitable,” Pratt reflected. “We have big debates in this County about 12-acre gravel mines. Their 1200-acre mine would be 100 times that size, so SLC should not get any special treatment.”

The judges’ recommendation now goes before DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty. It is expected that St. Lawrence Cement will likely object to Goldberger and Villa’s latest ruling, as they did in their 300-page appeal of their decision to hold a trial (adjudicatory hearings) on a wide range of issues related to the plant. The second half of Crotty’s reaction to that appeal is still pending.

Additional quotations from today's ruling follow below:
* "While the company has produced a record of its efforts to maintain the mine as a resource for a future supply of limestone once the manufacturing plant was considered viable, there has been no mining activity of the scale proposed, no application prior to this one for such activity, and therefore no approvals of same... The Greenport mine and cement manufacturing plant will have many impacts on the area.”

* "SLC has presented a mine with a proposed extraction rate that is 300% greater than what has existed previously, combined with a manufacturing facility, conveyor, and dock.”

* "Since it has been decades since a mine operating at full capacity combined with a cement plant, conveyor and dock has existed, changes have occurred in the community and in the environment.”

* "We appreciate that modern methods of mining should decrease environmental effects. However, even the applicant in its own DEIS concluded that certain impacts would likely increase due to the increased extraction rate. Moreover, we find that many of the potential impacts such as noise will result from the entwined actions of the manufacturing plant and the mine requiring the ability to examine those impacts and develop further mitigation measures as necessary.”

* "The proposed activity far exceeds what has transpired at the Greenport mine since at least 1976.”
Click HERE to download the full ruling as a PDF.