MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — A request from a sand mining company to dig at twice the current depths came under attack Monday from residents concerned about impacts on their water supply, truck traffic, noise and other issues.
While the request comes from one mining operation, officials said approving it would increase the permitted depths at all 10 mines in the township from 30 to 60 feet. Residents who live around mining operations were in opposition.
“My concern is my well and noise. There is nothing nice at 10 o’clock at night (about) listening to a sand dredge and machines making beeping noises,” said Sandcastle Drive resident Robert Kelly, who lives next to a mining operation.
Ronald Jones, who lives on Sandcastle Drive, said his well is at 50 feet deep and next to an Albrecht & Huen quarry that could be excavated 10 feet below his well.
“Water from my well will head to Albrecht & Huen, because I’m 200 feet from them,” Jones said.
Township Committee held a public hearing on the proposal to increase sand mine depths from 30 to 60 feet just to get input from residents. The issue was not scheduled for a vote. The committee indicated it may seek a scientific study on water supply impacts before making any decisions. Any changes would have to be made to an ordinance governing mining operations.
The added depth has been requested by an Indian Trail Road sand-mining operation that wants to supply material for the project replacing three traffic signals on the Garden State Parkway.
Donald Rogers, Inc. owns the 30-acre mine along with the R.E. Pierson Construction Co., the general contractor on the parkway project. The Indian Trail Road site is the closest sand mine to the three traffic signals being replaced with full interchanges. The work will require an estimated 560,000 cubic yards of fill material for embankments.
Curt Mitchell, facility director for R.E. Pierson, said his company acquired an interest in the mine six years ago with the idea that it is “perfectly situated” if a project became available nearby, but he acknowledged going deeper would be a bonus of sorts.
“We bid the job with the intent of going to 30 feet. You can’t bid gambling to go to 60 feet,” Mitchell said.
Deputy Mayor Tim Donohue asked Mitchell where the fill would come from if the request is denied. Mitchell said the company owns a mine in Dennis Township.
Tom Hillegass, an attorney for R.E. Pierson, noted Upper Township, Dennis Township and the Pinelands region all allow 65-foot mine depths. Lower Township, he noted, does not have a maximum depth.
If the increase is denied, R.E. Pierson would first excavate the site to 30 feet before going elsewhere. The site has five separate lakes with current depths of 4 to 10 feet. Mitchell said there is enough material there at current depths for two years of mining.
Committeewoman Sue DeLanzo noted a defunct landfill is adjacent to the mine, and she pushed for scientific studies on whether digging deeper could cause pollution to migrate. DeLanzo was concerned about puncturing a clay layer, or lens, that could allow pollutants in the upper water table to migrate to cleaner water residents rely on.
“How deep can you dig without disturbing the aquifer and damaging the quality of our water? That is my concern, and we really need a study to know that,” DeLanzo said.
Brian Murphy, an engineer representing the miners, said the defunct landfill is owned by Waste Management, and it would be responsible for any pollution. Murphy offered to test the sand that is excavated, but DeLanzo did not feel that was sufficient and said the risk was “far too great” without more study.
“If we go deeper, we need to know at what depth is it safe. Every pit may be different. We need a geologist,” DeLanzo said.
Marc DeBlasio, a township engineer, said the landfill changes things.
“If it migrates to the pit, that’s a major, major mess,” he said.
Mitchell offered to have a study done for his operation but said he did not want to spend a lot of money unless the committee was at least receptive to increasing the depth.
Rocco Tedesco, an attorney representing several mining operations, noted most are not near a landfill. He asked the committee not to make a decision solely on one mine near a landfill. Tedesco promoted the industry and urged the committee to adopt the 60-foot depth with each operation subject to a separate review for environmental impacts.
“You don’t build a sidewalk, the foundation of a house, a septic system, or pave a road without sand. Hurricane Sandy has created a whole new market for sand with beach replenishment,” Tedesco said. “We don’t want our baby thrown out with their bathwater.”
Residents brought up other issues. Vilma Pombo was concerned deeper mines would increase saltwater intrusion into the aquifers.
Renee Brecht, of the American Littoral Society, said breaking a clay lens could allow surface water with pesticides, septic system sewage and other contaminants to migrate downward. She said breaking a lens could dry out streams, wetlands and private wells. Brecht said a hydrologist should be involved with any revisions to the mining ordinance.
Other residents complained about truck traffic damaging roads, and mining operations not maintaining the required buffer zones next to residential areas.
Mayor Dan Lockwood got the crowd laughing with some wishful thinking about other things that are mined.
“If we find some gold, we might be going deeper,” Lockwood said.
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