Local company sues Town of Cortlandville, Planning Board

(Photo via the Cortlandville Sand and Gravel website).

Route 13 Rocks LLC DBA Cortlandville Sand and Gravel has issued a legal challenge against the Town of Cortlandville and the town’s planning board, alleging the town has unlawfully outlawed mining activities.

In the lawsuit, Rt. 13 Rocks LLC officials request that the court declares existing mining activities are lawful, despite the town’s recent restrictions imposed on mining in Cortlandville.

The plaintiffs also ask the court to declare mining operations to be able to expand. This action would be a repeal of the town’s Local Law No.1 and all amendments related to the law, court documents say. Local Law No. 1 is titled: “A Local Law To Amend the Zoning Code to Further Safeguard the Existing Wellhead Protection Areas within the Town of Cortlandville’s Aquifer Protection District and Other Related Amendments.” 

Court records indicate this law was enacted Feb. 16 and filed with the state on March 3. The law prohibits the formation of new mines or mining activities, as well as outlaws the expansion of any existing uses and activities within Wellhead Protection Zone 1A. This zone is an area protected by the town due to its proximity to water sources. Existing operations, according to the law, may expand only laterally within the existing property, but may not expand into and below the water table unless it has been previously permitted by the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), according to the legislation.

The company alleges that the enactment of it was “procedurally defective,” as the town planning board failed to comply with legal procedure. Further records show that the company claims the enactment of the law “was arbitrary and capricious.”

The company, through legal counsel, sent a letter to town officials in August 2021, notifying them that the denial of further mining activity in the area would have economic repercussions for the company and that the town would be on the hook for said “economic damages.” The sand and gravel mine had previously asked the DEC for an expansion of mining activities and claims that the company was in the process of figuring out how to move forward. The DEC, the lawsuit claims, has the superseding authority of overruling municipal governments when it comes to mining operations.

Part of that process with the DEC involved the company commissioning a study with consultant H2H Geoscience Engineering PLLC, a Troy-based engineering firm. The final report, issued by the firm in March 2020, indicated that the expansion of mining activities “will have no negative impact on the town’s groundwater or drinking water,” according to the company. The report was sent to the DEC as well as Cortland Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). The company alleges that the local law outlawing mining was enacted by the town as a direct reaction to Route 13 Rocks’ application to the DEC for a modification of the mining permit that would allow the company to expand its mining activities to areas below the water table. 

Local law annulment 

If the local law is not nullified, court documents state, the town would pay Rt. 13 Rocks “just compensation for the taking of its property in an amount to be determined.” The town would also have to grant the company “other further relief as is just and proper, including its costs and disbursements,” as stated in the suit.

The suit was filed by Suzanne Messler, an attorney from Syracuse’s Bond, Schoeneck, and King. Messler did not return a request for comment from The Cortland Voice. The notice of summons and service was accepted by town attorney John DelVecchio in a document dated May 6.

DelVecchio and town supervisor Tom Williams declined to comment on the legal situation. 

Carol Simon, a representative of Cortlandville Sand and Gravel also declined to comment. She noted the company was advised not to provide public statements on the matter.

Court proceedings are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 19 at the Cortland County Courthouse.