WATERLOO — Lee Henry and Dixie Lemmon can’t help feeling a sense of deja vu.
They were among the leaders of a successful nine-year legal fight to stop Seneca Meadows Landfill from mining soil on 122 acres of vacant land bound by North, Burgess and Powderly roads.
Henry lives at 93 Virginia St., less than a mile from the mine site. Lemmon’s North Road house is virtually surrounded by SMI-owned land bought for mining.
Henry, Lemmon and Concerned Citizens of Seneca County went to court in 2017 to stop landfill officials from excavating soil and trucking it across Burgess Road to its nearby town of Seneca Falls landfill, the state’s largest, for use as cover and fill. The town code enforcement officer and the town Zoning Board of Appeals supported allowing SMI to build a haul road in the R-1 zone. Opponents challenged that in court, but Acting State Supreme Court Justice Patrick Falvey dismissed it. CCSC appealed to the Fourth Department Appellate Division Court, which reversed Falvey’s ruling.
SMI filed an appeal with the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, but that court refused to hear an appeal in September 2017.
“I hope we don’t have to fight this again,” Lemmon said. “I hope the Town Board will stop it and not entertain this. We stopped them once, why bring it up again?
“The comprehensive plan calls for no commercial mining and this zone change looks like it would allow commercial mining. Who is pushing this?” she asked.
Their lawyers, Doug Zamelis and Rich Rieben, used the town zoning code as the key to their argument. The land immediately west of Burgess Road is zoned one-family residential. The mine area is zoned agricultural and mining is an allowable use in that zone. SMI obtained a state mined land reclamation permit for the project.
But the R-1 zone prohibits that land from being used for mining or any related activity. Basically, the soil could be mined, but it could not be transported by truck through the R-1 zone to get to the landfill, land-locking the project.
In 2017, the town spent months developing a new comprehensive plan that called both for correcting split zoning issues and not allowing commercial mining in the town.
Then the town hired MRB Group to update its zoning code to align it with the new comprehensive plan. But the Burgess Road zoning matter also exists on Routes 5&20 from the village line west to Border City.
The land there that is closest to the road is zoned residential and the land inside and adjoining the Cayuga-Seneca Canal was zoned mixed use, commercial or agricultural. Although mining wasn’t an issue, the R-1 zone along the road stymied commercial development on those parcels.
MRB’s proposal is to replace the R-1 zones on Burgess Road and Routes 5&20 with a new mixed use zone that would allow access to commercial developments and mining.
Henry said CCSC now fears that the proposed change would allow SMI to bring trucks into and out of the mine area and across Burgess Road to and from the landfill. A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 24 prior to the regular Town Board meeting. Henry, Lemmon and other mine opponents vow to be there to renew their opposition to mining that area.
In the most recent CCSC newsletter, Henry said MRB Group is attempting to change the landscape by convincing the Town Board to change the zoning regulations.
“These proposed changes will also allow SMI to exit across Burgess Road and continue their mining operations in the area west of Burgess Road,” Henry said. “In fact, the proposed plan would open approximately 80 percent of the town to future mining.”
Henry said state law requires that all codes must agree with the comprehensive plan, which he said specifically recommends the town amend its local laws to ensure commercial mining is not legal in the town of Waterloo.
“It is only a little more than two years since the court issued its ruling after a nine-year fight, stopping SMI from crossing residential territory and Burgess Road,” Henry said. “Now this zoning change is attempting to circumvent that decision, solely for the benefit of SMI and in direct violation of the plan, which I like to call the will of the people.”
He urged people to be informed on the proposed changes and be ready to attend and speak at the public hearing.
“We can beat them, but only with your help. Defend your property and lifestyle,” he concluded.
SMI owns the land and has a required state mined land reclamation permit.
Landfill Regional Manager Kyle Black said the company supports the proposed zoning map change.
“It cleans up things for the town and for property owners, not just us. Having split zones causes problems. Not having part of our land in an R-1 zone would give us access to the mine area,” Black said.
He said the split zoning issue came to light because of the Meadow View Mine project.
“We still have an appeal option, but it will be better if the town fixed this issue for the whole town,” Black said, adding that he hopes other property owners on 5&20 show up to support the change as well.