Skip to content
Home » Schuyler County » Watkins Glen » Plan to expand gravel mine leaves Watkins Glen State Park vulnerable, regional parks manager tells DEC

Plan to expand gravel mine leaves Watkins Glen State Park vulnerable, regional parks manager tells DEC

  • / Updated:
  • Peter Mantius 

The latest plan to quintuple the size of the Padua Ridge gravel mine is inadequate to protect its neighbor, the Watkins Glen State Park, from a host of potentially severe environmental risks, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation declared last week.

The developer’s 784-page draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) fails to fully address multiple threats, including stormwater runoff, disruption of the water table and truck traffic, Fred Bonn, OPRHP’s regional director for the Finger Lakes wrote in an April 9 letter.

Martin Wojcik, who runs the mine under the name It’s Greener Now Inc. (IGN), produced the voluminous document as part of his application for a permit to expand the mine from 14.33 acres to 75.28 acres.

Bonn’s 10-page letter to the Department of Environmental Conservation is far more explicit and critical of the DEIS than his two-page Feb. 12 letter to the agency that asked the DEC to extend the deadline for public comment on Wojcik’s plan.

“The analysis for peak flows and capacity to manage stormwater is inadequate considering climate change and the expected frequency of more severe storms,” Bonn wrote in the April 9 letter.

“…There appears to be a substantial risk for water diversion into Watkins Glen State Park” along a proposed berm “that spans the entirety of the southwestern mine boundary.”

OPRHP has pressed for an extensive analysis of noise levels around the mine since 2008.

While flood modeling in the DEIS is based on 10-year and 25-year storm events, Bonn said higher intensity storms could overwhelm the berm, sending stormwater and sediment into the park and the Glen Creek gorge. 

“The analysis should include multiple successive 100-year storm events and a 500-year storm event,” he wrote.

Despite a pending Freedom of Information Law request that WaterFront filed with the Parks Department March 6, Bonn’s latest letter was withheld until after the DEC’s April 13 deadline for public comment. The department finally responded to the FOIL request yesterday, and the letter was included.  

In it, Bonn reveals a long-standing tension between the Parks Department and the DEC over how to address potential threats — including increased truck traffic and stormwater — that a mine expansion would pose to the park.

The policy rift between the agencies dates back to 2007, the year the DEC ruled that no environmental impact statement would be necessary for a plan to expand the mine to 106 acres. 

Only after the OPRHP objected, citing concerns about impacts on hydrogeology in the park, did the DEC reverse its position and agree to require an EIS.

But when DEC drafted its 2008 final scoping outline to guide the developer’s preparation of a draft EIS, it rejected OPRHP’s explicit calls for an analyses of truck traffic, noise and dust. 

More than a decade later, after Wojcik trimmed his expansion plan to 75.28 acres, OPRHP restated its request for a truck traffic study. But a consultant hired by Wojcik dismissed the need in 2021, writing: “Dust, vibration, and truck traffic impacts are outside the scope of the DEIS, per the 2008 final scoping outline.”

In 2021, a gravel truck marked by an IGN logo overturned on a sharp curve on State Route 409 a few feet from Watkins Glen’s busiest intersection.

Bonn’s most recent letter said the conclusion in the DEIS that truck traffic wouldn’t increase “is not well supported.” Given that the plan calls for the extraction of 3.5 million cubic yards of material over 20 years, he wrote, “traffic levels may increase and be substantively worsened…. A traffic impact analysis considering current and future conditions should be completed.”

WaterFront estimated that moving 3.5 million cubic yards of sand and gravel within 20 years would require one large dump truck trip every 33 minutes on State Route 409, which runs into the busiest intersection in Watkins Glen. An IGN truck truck loaded with gravel overturned near the intersection in 2021.

While the DEIS does not provide any current or future traffic data, it does include plans for screening berms to cut noise levels from the mine — something not required in the 2008 scoping document. 

The DEIS also includes a 2021 letter to the DEC that said, “It is the opinion of OPRHP that the project will have no adverse impact on historic resources.” 

But the document downplays OPRHP’s extensive criticisms of the mine’s plan to mitigate environmental risks to the state park. Despite that and the fact that the DEIS often fails to follow the final scoping document, the DEC released it for public comment in January.

In his latest letter, Bonn noted multiple unresolved threats to the water table.

“It is not likely an accurate statement to say that excavation above the water table will not affect the hydrogeology of the area,” he wrote. “With removal of overburden sand and gravel, up to 70 feet thick in some areas as shown on the cross-sections, there may likely be increased water runoff that could have the potential to affect areas nearby.”.

Furthermore, buried gorges “may have an important influence on the hydrology of the area, but have not been characterized,” Bonn wrote. 

The DEIS fails to confirm or deny the presence of buried gorges or to comply with the final scoping outline’s call for graphics depicting the location and extent of the suspected buried gorges in relationship to the mine and the state park.

The DEIS also fails to provide a complete annual cycle of water-level data, which the scoping outline required to fully understand fluctuations in the water table. Bonn said the full annual cycle is needed to determine the high level mark, which is vital to setting the allowed depth of excavation.

Perhaps the most basic omission from the DEIS — Bonn’s first of 27 comments — is its failure to specify where future mining would take place and on what schedule. “These are fundamental components of the project description that are missing and therefore limit understanding and assessment of the proposed action,” he said.

The document states that Wojcik would reclaim mined land “to the greatest extent possible.” But it also abandon’s the 2008 final scoping document’s explicit limit of mining to 15 acres at one time. The DEIS sidesteps that, saying, “…(P)ortions of the active mine area will be reclaimed as work progresses so that the area of disturbance never exceeds 50 acres.”

But there is no schedule for mining specific areas. 

Bonn’s letter adds the growing list of known opponents to Wojcik’s current expansion plan, including the Schuyler County LegislatureState Sen. Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats), Assemblymember Phil Palmesano (R-Corning)Judy McKinney Cherry, executive director of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development, Seneca Lake GuardianSeneca Lake Pure Waters Association, and William F. Demarest III, an Albany attorney retained by Schuyler County legislator Michael Lausell.