On the agenda is a resolution that would deny the permit application put forth by Driftwood Family Farms to begin excavation on their parcel.
Orient residents Steven and Gretchen Mezynieski, 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."
"I've had reservations about the emphasis of the whole operation," Councilman Jim Wooten said.
Peter 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, have 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 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.
The farm, when purchased by the Mezynieskis, had fallen into disrepair and had been seen as an eyesore amongst residents.
Danowski, representing the Mezynieskis, said at the time that he was under the opinion that farmers were exempt from any excavation ordinance.
Danowski said all farmers should be treated equally and if his clients were asked to adhere to an excavation ordinance, all farmers should have to follow the same procedure.
Mezynieski said when he purchased the farm, it was in a "rundown condition, with dilapidated buildings — it was a garbage dump. We've been cleaning it up."
The goal, he said, was to create a farm for his son; he would like to give each of his three children a farm of their own.
Danowski said a key point is that the Mezynieskis want to preserve prime soils on the farm. In addition, some individuals were racing motorcycles and other recreational vehicles on the site, so deer fencing was put in place.
Councilman John Dunleavy said Meyznieski had done a good job of renovating the buildings on the site.
The couple, who raise privet out in Orient, were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. "We just got destroyed when the dikes broke out there," Meyznieski said. "We have had some severe financial damage."
His hope is to recoup some of his losses by selling some of the sand on his Calverton parcel and using some of the sand out in Orient in the rehabilitation project.
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."
Mezynieski said he has spent hundreds of thousands to clean up the farm.
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 take out $2 million of 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.