Plans to build a concrete batching plant on five acres zoned for agriculture on the Yates/Schuyler county line is triggering local concerns about water use, dust, noise and truck traffic.
The Starkey Planning Board could vote as soon as tomorrow night on a request for a special use permit that would allow “light industry” on the site.
John Pipher, president of Lowman-based Custom-Mix Concrete Inc., said the new plant would help him better serve his existing customers, including farms and wineries, as far north as Penn Yan.
“Concrete is a very vulnerable product after 90 minutes,” Pipher told WaterFront Sunday. “We’re doing hour-, hour and 30 minute-deliveries there now. We would be supplying so much better quality concrete being only 10, 15, 20 minutes away.”
The company already operates Southern Tier batching plants in Lowman, Addison, Chemung and Cooper’s Plain.
Trucks from those facilities regularly supply concrete to build manure containment tanks in the rural area between Keuka and Seneca lakes.
That activity supports a state environmental push to end the farming practice of spreading manure on fields in the winter, Pipher noted. Storing manure is preferable to allowing it to run off frozen fields into local streams, which tends to boost nutrient levels in the lakes — triggering harmful algal blooms and lake eutrophication.
“Concrete is almost the only way to accomplish that (manure storage goal),” he said. “On almost a daily basis, we’re pouring manure tanks.”
While the company views the site at the intersection of state routes 14A and 226 as an ideal location to expand, many local residents are appalled by the possible environmental downsides of what they see as “heavy industry.”
Richard and Pamela Tierney, whose Rock Stream retirement home overlooks the proposed site from about a mile away, said the plant would consume scare water supplies now shared by neighboring homes, farms, a plant nursery and a dairy/creamery.
The Tierneys emailed the state Department of Environmental Conservation today to request that it step in as “lead regulatory agency” in evaluating the environmental risks of Pipher’s proposal. They asserted that a town planning board in Yates County should not have the final say on environmental risks affecting businesses and residents in neighboring Schuyler County.
The Yates County Planning Board is set to take up the matter when it meets Aug. 25.
The DEC did not respond to questions today about its potential involvement in approving and/or regulating the project.
The plant would be built on a five-acre section of a long rectangular parcel of 28.2 acres that abuts the southern border of Yates County. It sits only a few yards from a sharp bend in state Route 14A where it intersects with state Route 226.
Pipher has reportedly stated that up to 50 trucks per day would be entering the facility, which would mix cement, sand, water and other additives to form concrete.
He said he planned “a brand new 12-yard batch plant,” the same capacity description as his plants in Addison, Chemung and Lowman. The load-out facility would be enclosed and the silo would have a dust collection filter, Pipher added.
He said plant would use up to 20,000 gallons of water per day.
Paul Knapp, a water systems specialist in Penn Yan, said he thought it unlikely that site could deliver enough water to produce ready-made concrete without affecting the water flows of its neighbors. He suggested that another site with a municipal water supply might be preferable.
“I’ve got houses in that area that don’t get a ton of water,” Knapp said of his water treatment customers. “Every well is different, but everything I’ve seen in that area is anywhere between two-to-five gallons per minute.”
For the cement plant to draw 20,000 gallons per day, Knapp added, “he’d have to put in storage tanks and pump 24 hours a day. But there’s only so much water. That would affect everybody, eventually.”
Merwin Zimmerman, owner of Country Side Nursery across Route 14A from the proposed plant site, said his business requires a steady water supply, which he obtains from his main well — even in dry periods. While he said he does not oppose the batch plant project, he acknowledged that well drilling for water in that area has been a “hit or miss” proposition.
Sarah VanOrden Morrow, manager of the Rock Stream Dairy (recently acquired by Crosswinds), said she was concerned the heavy water use by the plant could reduce the water available for her business. She said a cement batching plant might be good for the community, but added that she would prefer it be on another site rather than her immediate neighbor.
“We have a dairy farm and a creamery,” Morrow said. “We have a limited water supply.”
Pipher told WaterFront that he would consider installing a 15,000-gallon tank and pumping the site’s two existing wells through the night to fill it.
Aside from water use issues, neighbors have raised other concerns.
Anne M. “Jami” Ford, whose Schuyler County home is about a mile southeast the proposed site, said the project threatens local property values and raises traffic safety concerns.
The plant would be built on a section of Route 14A with a 55 mph speed limit near what she described as a “blind corner … where multiple accidents and fatalities have occurred. It is one of the main routes for children who ride their bikes…”
The plant has also drawn fire from the Sierra Club and two local environmental groups, Seneca Lake Guardian and Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes.
In a July 28 letter, the three groups urged Jeffrey Ayers, Yates County’s director of planning, to categorize the project as “heavy industry” and urge the Town of Starkey to reject the bid for a special use permit on those grounds.
Under the Town of Starkey’s zoning regulations, land zoned agricultural can be used for light industry, but not heavy industry.
Heavy industry is defined by the town as any industry that is likely to cause “a burden on town water use” or an impact beyond its boundaries on: “noise levels; light or glare levels; vibration levels; air quality; water quality, emissions of smoke, fumes, gas particulate matter, radiation, other toxins, or odors.”
Peter is a three-time Pulitzer nominated reporter covering environmental issues through his first-of-its-kind digital publication The Water Front. He’s won an array of Associated Press, UPI, and Society of Professional Journalist awards. His reporting on environmental issues continues to be featured in prominent New York publications and is available on FingerLakes1.com through an exclusive content partnership. Have a question or lead? Send it to [email protected].