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Home » Schuyler County » Watkins Glen » Watkins Glen quarry owner fails to comply with state order to restore illegally mined acreage; DEC postpones enforcement

Watkins Glen quarry owner fails to comply with state order to restore illegally mined acreage; DEC postpones enforcement

  • / Updated:
  • Peter Mantius 

The owner of a gravel quarry who seeks a state permit to quintuple the size of his mine has failed to comply with a February 2022 state consent order to restore 8.5 acres that he mined illegally.

As the Department of Environmental Conservation evaluates Martin Wojcik’s controversial application to expand adjacent to the Watkins Glen State Park, the agency has quietly postponed the deadline for compliance with its reclamation order three times.

“The fact they keep giving him extensions is inexcusable,” said Laurie DeNardo, mayor of the Village of Watkins Glen.

DeNardo, the Schuyler County Legislature, the regional director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and others have sharply criticized Wojcik’s plan to expand his 14.33-acre mine to 75.28 acres on a steep hill above Watkins Glen.

The plan is spelled out in a 784-page draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) submitted by Wojcik’s company, It’s Greener Now Inc. (IGN).

Village residents have expressed fears that quintupling the size of the mine would sharply raise risks they’ll be flooded. Fred Bonn, the regional director, cited threats to the popular state park from stormwater, noise, dust and traffic. Others complained that DEIS’s land reclamation requirements are vague and unenforceable.

The proposed expansion on the south side of New York Route 409 would include 3.72 acres along a ridge adjacent to the state park that Wojcik excavated even though it has always been outside his permitted mining site. The agency that once fined Wojcik for unauthorized digging into the ridge is now considering his bid for a permit to mine there after all.

Wojcik also owns about 145 acres on the north side of Route 409, but he has never had a permit to mine there.

In October 2021 DEC inspectors discovered unauthorized excavation on Wojcik’s property north of the highway. That led to the agency’s February 2022 consent order, which included a $25,000 fine for mining illegally. Wojcik signed it and paid $20,000. He was ordered to reclaim the land by June 30, 2022 or pay an additional $5,000.

He neither reclaimed the land nor paid the extra fine by that date. DEC amended its consent order to extend the cleanup deadline to June 2023. 

Meanwhile, Wojcik and his consulting firm, JMT, were pressuring DEC officials to approve for public review his DEIS in order to launch the public portion of the permitting process for mine expansion south of Route 409. 

But the consent agreement covering the illegally mined 8.5 acres north of the highway presented a potential regulatory obstacle. So Wojcik and JMT provided photos to show purported progress on the reclamation. 

An IGN signs marks the entrance to Martin Wojcik’s permitted gravel quarry on the south side of NYS Route 409. He seeks a permit to quintuple its size.

“He said he had to show good faith and in so doing he is hoping it will help get the permit quicker,” an IGN employee wrote to JMT in an Aug. 14, 2023 email.

Apparently that photo evidence wasn’t persuasive.

A month later, the DEC’s Daniel Sek wrote in an email to Wojcik: “Today I inspected the Padua Ridge site (across 409 from IGN’s permitted mine) that removed material without a permit. The site is nowhere near an approvable reclamation.”

But that did not stop the DEC from approving the DEIS and releasing it to the public in early January; DeNardo was notified in a letter dated Jan. 10. That set in motion the public portion of the permitting process, including public hearings and a public comment period.

The week the agency released the DEIS, it also quietly modified the February 2022 consent order for the second time, pushing back the deadline for reclaiming the 8.5 acres north of Route 409 to June 15. That Jan. 4, 2024 modification raised the suspended fine from $5,000 to $10,000 for failure to finish on time.

The public was kept in the dark. The 784-page DEIS does not even mention the 2022 consent order regarding the 8.5 acres north of Route 409 or Wojcik’s non-compliance.

WaterFront obtained the order and the January 2024 modification in April through a Freedom of Information Law request.

When WaterFront asked the DEC last week whether the agency expected Wojcik to complete the required reclamation by June 15, an agency official said he’d been granted a new deadline — his fourth — July 15. 

In a June 6 statement, the agency said the suspended portion of the fine was $15,000. But it corrected that figure the following day, saying the suspended fine was actually $5,000 (half the amount cited in the Jan. 4 consent order modification).

“DEC is reviewing more than 250 comments and input received during public hearings and the extended public comment period,” the DEC statement said. “DEC will continue to monitor compliance with the stringent permit requirements in place at the existing facility. DEC will consider all public comments, along with compliance with all relevant requirements prior to making a decision on the pending permit applications.”

Wojcik did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment on his progress reclaiming the 8.5 acres.

Last week, Schuyler County Legislator Michael Lausell received a terse letter from Timothy Walsh, director of DEC’s Region 8, which is taking the lead role in considering Wojcik’s application for a permit to expand the IGN mine. Walsh had signed both the 2022 consent order and the January 2024 modification.

“Gov. (Kathy) Hochul asked me to respond to your letter,” Walsh wrote. His letter explained to Lausell that the DEC’s permit review processes “are thorough, transparent and most importantly, guided by stringent environmental laws and regulations.”

Lausell had written Hochul May 16 to report on “massive opposition” to Wojcik’s plan to expand his gravel mine. “Rarely has an issue so united representatives from both sides of the aisle,” he wrote. “We ask you assistance in ensuring that the DEC will give the expansion application the required scrutiny….”

Several months ago, Lausell spent more than $10,000 of his own money to hire William F. Demarest III, an environmental attorney in Albany, to present a case against Wojcik’s permit application. 

In a Apr. 5, 2024 letter to the DEC, Demarest urged the agency to formally ban any future mining north of Route 409.

Demarest noted that Wojcik had once proposed expanding his mine to 106.7 acres, including a portion of his property north of Route 409 needed to accommodate a proposed new rail siding, which would allow for shipments of sand and gravel by train.  

Wojcik eventually dropped the area north of Route 409 and the rail siding from his plans “to minimize potential environmental impacts,” according to the current DEIS.