"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 on a Calverton farm could be denied at the next public next meeting, which will be held on Wednesday.
On the agenda is a resolution that would deny the permit application put forth by Driftwood Family Farms to begin excavation on their parcel.
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.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said Thursday that she'd like to see the comments from the Department of Agriculture and Markets before voting "so we don't put ourselves in a legal situation."Walter said the bottom line was that Ag and Markets made a decision "in support of the town."
Mezynieski said Saturday said his goal is to "completely turn the farm around" and give it to his son, 17, "who wants to spend the rest of his life in Riverhead. Now they are telling us to go away."
In order to create a 21st century operation from a farm that has been in existence since the 1800s, Mezynieski said the land must be graded properly.
As to the town's concern over mining the sand, he added, "Route 58 has been nothing but strip mined for shopping malls. They've cleared every tree."
The town, Mezynieksi said, "keeps saying that I'm trying to take 400,000 yards of sand. I told them I'd take the phased approach. I don't care if I take no yardage — if they have another plan, I'd be happy to hear it. I want to work with the town."
So far, Mezynieski said, he paid $2 million for the farm and roughly another $1 million to remove garbage from the site and upgrade the buildings on the parcel.
"Sean Walter keeps saying I'm going to take $1 million in sand and skip town. We have no intention of doing that. Why would we do that?"
He added that if mining the sand and leaving were his goal, he would not have spent millions on cleaning up the property.
The board's expected decision, he said, "makes no sense at all."
Furthermore, Mezynieski said neither he nor his attorney Peter Danowski received notice prior to the work session on Thursday or the pending vote on Wednesday.
"They're deciding the fate of our entire future behind closed doors," Mezynieski said.
Also, he said, "Everyone cries and cries about wanting to save farming on Long Island. Meanwhile, this is the fifth farm that we are working on and since the first day we started, Sean Walter has been against us. I'm very confused by it."
He added that town board members have come to the site and agreed that the parcel needed to be graded.
Sand from the parcel was to be used to help mitigate Superstorm Sandy damage on Mezynieski's farm in Orient. If the excavation permit is denied, he will have to purchase a half million dollars worth of materials to commence with that work.
"They're putting a real financial burden on us," he said.
The board had concerns Thursday. "I've had reservations about the emphasis of the whole operation," Councilman Jim Wooten said.
Danowski, the attorney representing the Mezynieskis, said farmers have traditionally been exempt from the site plan process and are allowed to excavate to increase prime soils.
The parcel, he said, has topsoil destroyed by wind and rain, with wooded areas and a steep slope; excavation would increase prime soils.
Danowski said he presented a report from the United States Department of Agriculture's soil service office that says if the land was regraded, prime soils would increase.
His clients, Danowski said, have cleaned up the parcel and restored the on-site buildings.
"The town is going to punish farmers even though they are exempt," Danowski said.
The town, Danowksi said, has posed the question of whether or not "strip mining" would be permitted, but, he said, the ability to remove material from the parcel would be considered excavation, permitted under town code for farmers.
"All this is going to do is lead to litigation," Danowski said.
Should the board deny the exemption, Mezynieski could move forward with an industrial development.
"This is a typical knee-jerk reaction from the town, where they say, 'Here's a guy who is going to remove sand. Let's deny him,'" Danowski said.
Danowski added that "no one is disputing that this is a farming operation, the Mezynieskis are farmers, and that there is a severe slope, and this would increase the amount of farmland on the property. They're just saying they are going to stop him from farming any more tillable land, because they don't want to get involved with sand being removed. Farmers are being punished."
He added, "If you want to put farmers out of business, this is the way to do it. It's pretty sad."
Walter said at Thursday's work session that he believed the board would support the denial at Tuesday's meeting. Councilman George Gabrielsen was not present to weigh in.
In May, the proposal for a farm on Route 25 in Calverton had some Riverhead town board members seeking answers.
Councilman John Dunleavy said Meyznieski had done a good job of renovating the buildings on the site.
Walter asked about the volume of sand coming from the Calverton property; the amount totals approximately 415,000 cubic yards.
Walter asked if farming were Meyznieski's only profession.
"Honestly, I own an excavating in Southampton," he said.
Mezynieski said his family moved to Wainscott in the 1920s and were potato farmers; his father was an East Hampton police officer and his mother drove a school bus.
He began his excavating business but always dreamed of farming, Mezynieski said.
"We purchased three farms in Orient that were in complete disarray and turned them into working farms," he said, adding that his hope was to do the same in Riverhead and that he was acting in good faith. "We are leading by example. There's no hidden agenda here."
Mezynieski's oldest son, Cole, 17, has been working on the parcel every day after school, he said. "When this is all said and done, this will be his farm," he said. "This is the next generation, growing up in Riverhead and becoming farmers."
Mezynieski said he understood the board's concern but had no intention of strip mining the site and cutting out of town. "The end result here will be a finished farm," he said.
Dunleavy said Mezynieski was in an "unfortunate position after what's been happening in the Town of Riverhead -- people digging holes and moving sand and selling it, and not planting." Having seen the Calverton parcel, Dunleavy said, "I know you're going to do an honest thing."
Gabrielsen asked if the sand from the parcel was targeted for another location or if it was going to be sold; Mezynieski said it would be sold, with some being utilized in Orient, to rebuild 7000 feet of dikes that were destroyed by Sandy.
"Farmers out there were destroyed," Danowski said. "Much of his privet crop was killed and he needs to replant soon — this is the goal."
Mezynieski said one reason he purchased industrial property is because there are things that cannot be done on agricultural reserve property land.
Mezynieski said he would farm the land in sections. "I don't want to strip mine the whole place," he said. "I'm not going to have some huge farming operation. If you do a small section at a time you re-acclimate the soils."
And, he said, by phasing the buildout, the town would reserve the right to come in and tell him to cease operations if he were acting in a way other than discussed.
"That way you don't have a 40 acre open mine site," he said. "If you don't like it, it stops before it's started."
Walter said his fear had been that Mezynieski would would make money on the sand after paying only a half million for the property, "and then, that he'd come in and clear cut the property."
Giglio asked Mezynieksi if it turned out that he ever decided to be an industrial and not an agricultural operation, if he would pay $2 per yard for removal of materials.
Giglio said there would be "wear and tear" on Edwards Avenue from the removal of material. "We have no problem if it's a farm operation because we want to preserve farms."
Mezynieski said he had no problem with Giglio's suggestion.
Walter said in May while he'd like to do a bit more research on drainage and other issues, but said his fears were "allayed" by the concept of a phased approach.
"This will mean another generation of a farming family in Riverhead," Mezynieski said.
Mezynieksi said he has not yet decided on litigation. "We are still pursuing our options. We want to work with the town. We've said that since day one."
He added that no neighbors have spoken out against his plan. "Who has come out publicly and opposed this? No one."