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Excavation of knoll approved at scenic Boston Corner Farm

‘It was a good fight’

BOSTON CORNER — For six months there has been much back and forth among a passionate group of mostly Ancramdale residents, who petitioned the Ancram Planning Board to reject the application of excavator Fred Schneeberger to level a knoll for Boston Corner farmer John Langdon. Langdon farms property actually owned by Anthony Palumbo of Palumbo Block Co. Inc. of Dover Plains. The issue looks like it will finally be settled this Thursday, Dec. 2.

That’s when the board is expected to finally adopt a resolution to officially approve the controversial project. The board voted its unanimous approval of Schneeberger’s application at its Nov. 4 meeting, with plans to adopt the resolution at its December board meeting.

“This is what should have happened five months ago. The only reason it took so long is those people down there just kept busting my chops,” said Schneeberger, with some frustration after going through what he said has been the longest application process for a simple excavation that he can remember in his lengthy career. “So this should work for everybody. This isn’t going to affect most people; they won’t even see it.”

Carol Falcetti, who led the neighborhood protest, was pragmatic about the defeat.

“The excavation will take place, but I have no idea if there will be any limitations on it,” she said. “It was a good fight.”

The nameless citizens’ group, which drew roughly 30 or so residents concerned about Ancram’s Scenic Overlay District (SOD), actually did see some success. The neighbors joined forces to keep a knoll at Langdon Hurst Farm from potentially being mined. Though they were fought on the point of the project being technically called a “mine,” the excavation did drop back in terms of scale.

The original Site Plan Review and Special Use Permit (SUP), which Schneeberger submitted to the Planning Board on behalf of Langdon on May 5 to excavate 25,000-cubic yards of gravel from the farm, changed in September due to pressure from Falcetti’s group.

Schneeberger lessened the amount of gravel he planned to remove from the farm from 25,000-cubic yards to 20,000-cubic yards, which required the Planning Board to call for new submissions and hearings.

It also led the board’s chairman, John Ingram, to ask for more detailed paperwork, including studies on nearby wetlands for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to review and also studies on long-eared bats living in nearby trees. Schneeberger had to resubmit his Site Plan Review and SUP to the Planning Board.

Typically, gravel cannot be quarried in the SOD — except for rare exceptions. Agriculture is one such exception.

Schneeberger has explained multiple times, to both the Planning Board and this newspaper, that the excavation was needed because the knoll in question is “steep enough you would have trouble getting [machinery] up and down.” He described Langdon’s farm equipment, specifically a combine, as “state-of-the-art,” and said it can handle rugged terrain.

He also said there are no plans to “mine” the farm —  a major point of contention since the application was first submitted.

Palumbo also said he did not intend to mine the farm, and that mining was not his purpose for buying the 110-acre farm roughly 20 years ago. Palumbo said it was his “love of agriculture” that prompted him and his family to purchase the land.

That’s regardless of the fact that “bankrun gravel” will be removed, as Schneeberger described the material that will be excavated from the knoll. He further defined it as “sand and stone mixed in the field, or in a bank, a natural resource up and down the area that gets screened and washed and separated and can be made into sand and stone,” which will be removed and trucked down to Palumbo Block in Dover Plains.

“I don’t know what they’ll do with it,” said Schneeberger. “The mine next door, O&G, we worked on that for eight years and they used that for their concrete, crushed and separated and sized it, and then that’s what goes in their cement.”

Falcetti, who is 82 years old, said she is “OK with what has happened. I fought; I feel like finally the law has been followed as close as could be.”

She said she is also pleased some of the Planning Board’s procedures have been tightened up, including its posting of the meeting minutes, upcoming meeting agendas — 10 days before meetings as required by law — and proper noticing of meetings.

“I’m hoping to see papers and agendas digitalized too,” said Falcetti. “The board can say to applicants, ‘Please submit paper copies plus digital copies.’ For most people, they’re younger than I am, handing in things on a thumb drive is not hard to do… It’s a matter of will.”

Schneeberger, for his part, is just pleased that he can start work on the project when the weather cooperates.

“I’m just happy that it played out the way it did — it should not have taken this long,” he said. “Other than that, we’re happy, and when all is said and done, it will work for everybody. When it’s all done, there will be crops, and only a handful of people will notice it.”

He’s hoping to get the temporary road in, part of the land stripped and to start digging the top soil before the winter weather begins. Then the actual excavation work will have to be put on hold until spring returns.

Meanwhile, Falcetti said after getting a taste of what it’s like to work for something she believes in, she will continue to advocate for her community.

“I know I’ve been complaining a lot about these things and I’m happy to see the change,” she said. “I believe in democracy, I believe in transparency and I believe you have to obey the law. And if don’t like the law, you have to work to change it. So in a sense I lost; I lost the fight for the excavation, but that’s a small fight compared to getting the minutes and transparency. A lot of people have thanked me; I didn’t do it for thanks, but when you work and work and work, and are up at night, it’s not bad to be appreciated.”

This article has been corrected to note the change in the amount of gravel planned to be removed from the farm -- from 25,000-cubic yards to 20,000-cubic yards, not cubic-feet.

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