"We're absolutely shocked by the Riverhead Town board," Orient resident Steve Mezynieski said Saturday.
On Thursday, the board said that controversial permit for excavation put forth by the owners of Driftwood Family Farms for a Calverton parcel could be denied at Wednesday's public meeting.
Mezynieski and his wife Gretchen, owners of Driftwood Farms, came before the board for approval in May to begin excavation work at their Calverton parcel, which was previously the Zeh farm.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said on Thursday that the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets had reviewed the application and, in written correspondence dated August, 2013, from Bob Somers, PhD., a determination was made that the removal of soils from the parcel "was not in aid of agricultural activities."
The removal of "almost $1 million worth of sand does not constitute farming," Walter said Thursday.
But the Mezynieskis have countered that their plan has always been to keep the parcel dedicated to farmland, so that their son would have a place to set down roots.
At Wednesday's meeting, the couple's son, Cole, a high school senior, spoke to the board.
The farm, when purchased in July, 2012, was "a disaster," he said. "I worked day and night restoring barns, cleaning fields, installing a fence and restoring the farmhouse so I could live there."
The goal, the teen said, was to restore the farm so that it could be farmed in a modern way and be profitable.
"Riverhead Town has a rich heritage in farming," he said. "If you drive down County Road 58, all you see are strip malls. I don't want all the farms in Riverhead to disappear. I'm asking you to keep both my future and the future of farming in Riverhead in mind when you vote on this resolution."
His father added that over $3 million has been invested in the property so far and his aim was to dedicate the parcel to farming.
"We're not looking to do a huge sand mine here," he said, adding if the town board has a better plan, he was all ears. "I don't are if I take four or 400,000 yards. We want a usable property."
Mezynieski added that he had no clue the vote was pending until contacted by the media. "You're deciding the future behind closed doors," he said.
He added that Walter, when deputy town attorney, had once expressed pride in saving over 1000 acres of farmland.
"Here's a farm, and a young farmer, that want to be saved," he said.
Litigation is an option, Mezynieski said. "I can jump up and down and say I'll sue," he said. "But I don't think either of us want to get into a costly lawsuit. We want to work with you, not against you."
Mezynieski also showed the board a letter he had received from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, dated Sept. 3, that said protections afforded to farm operations under ag and markets law are extended to the parcel.
"The Department has also protected the ability of a farmer to make minor modifications to the surface gradient to facilitate agricultural production activities," the letter read.
Dominique Mendez, president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition said while the state department of ag and markets tends to weigh in favor of farmers, in the first letter, "they seem pretty sure this isn't necessary for farming. This time, ag and markets didn't weigh in on their side."
She added that the couple also has an excavation business. "You can't ignore that," she said.
To the board, she added, "I don't see how you can ignore this without putting yourself in a legal position. We have a long history of farming in Riverhead — but we also have a long history of sand mining."
The first letter from ag and markets, Mezynieski said, stated that it did not support major sand mining; he added that from the first, he has said he would take a phased approach to the project. "We do not want to turn this into a sand mine."
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the initial application to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, dated May 17, called for 415,000 cubic yards to be hauled off site and sold.
At the public meeting, she reminded Mezynieski that he said the sand was to be used to help mitigate damage to his Orient farm caused by Superstorm Sandy.
Mezynieski said that was still the plan; Giglio asked why the application said the sand was to be sold.
She also said she took offense to his comment anything had taken place behind closed doors when a public meeting had been held.
Mezynieski reiterated that he had not been told in advance that the vote was pending.
While Giglio said she agreed that the town must allow Mezynieski to clear trees from his land, "We have a problem with you taking 415,000 yards off the site. There are so many inconsistencies."
Mezynieski said he had no problem with a new plan. "You also can't deny our plan to regrade," Mezynieski said.
Councilman George Gabrielsen said Mezynieski can move the soil around on the site but the original proposal was to remove the 415,000 cubic yards of sand. "That is what we are reacting to," he said. "We don't have a problem with leveling on the site."
Councilman John Dunleavy expressed concerns about drainage; he also supported the phased approach as a compromise.
Third generation Jamesport farmer Phil Barbato said there was no need to excavate.
"You can't improve the property by moving the soils. You'll destroy it," he said.
Barbato said he knew Elmer Zeh, the original farmer that owned he land. "He grew some fine vegetables on that property," he said. "If this is a bonafide farming operation, leave it at that. You don't have to excavate half a million cubic yards."
Walter suggested the resolution be tabled so the board could seek legal counsel in light of the new letter from ag and markets; the board agreed.