The business of gravel mining has positive impacts that are overlooked by Cattaraugus County's Planning Board and others, say representatives of eight gravel mining companies who met with officials Thursday night in Franklinville.
In addition, one company representative estimated, up to 60 percent of the materials are used by local governments in public works projects.
Members of a special Planning Board subcommittee listened for more than an hour as mine operators reacted to the county Legislature's request for suggestions on how to mitigate adverse community impact from gravel mining.
Participating in the discussion were representatives from many companies operating in the Route 16 corridor, including Buffalo Crushed Stone, Lancaster Stone, Clarence Materials Corp., Ungermann Excavating, Gernatt Asphalt, IA Construction, Blue Circle Aggregates and Hauler Boehmer Transportation.
The impact, suggest the county's development studies of the Route 16 area, could be compounded by a clustering of current mining activities and new projects being permitted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
One report recently updated by the county planning department states 74 parcels, or more than 4,300 acres, are held by gravel interests along Routes 16 and 98 between Yorkshire and Olean. Planning officials have repeatedly requested cumulative impact studies of the activities be performed by the DEC, but those requests have been refused.
Adverse effects noted include increasing truck traffic, reclamation plans that don't take local land use plans into account, possible impact to ground water, and the removal of large quantities of natural resources.
Rich Pecnik of Gernatt told committee members the industry is being used as a "whipping boy" on the subject of adverse impact by uninformed county officials who can't tell him how many tons of aggregate are purchased by the government.
He added that he is embarrassed by a Route 16 corridor study that reflected no input from mine operators and he called for "good science" as a basis for final committee recommendations due to be submitted to legislators in February.
Several of those present asked to give more input before the final study is released and stated a willingness to talk issues over with municipal officials who met with the committee in July.
Some positive impact noted by the group included the creation of lakes for future tourism development, preservation of farmland and open space, and many informal contributions for charitable causes such as donation of materials for tennis courts, playgrounds and fire department parking lots.
Most of the mine operators attending said mine owners would resist payment of a per-ton fee to towns for removing gravel.
"The property owner has a right to do as he wishes. The basis of the raw material doesn't belong to the municipality or to the county," said Norman Ungermann, owner of Ungermann Excavating.
Another participant suggested companies could balance negative effects with other amenities, such as public access offered by hydroelectric facilities. Those methods would offer easier planning and administration by the DEC.