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After months of debate, research, controversy and petitions, the Marilla Town Board Tuesday moved closer to controlling mining operations, setting a public hearing on a proposed zoning amendment.

The amendment will essentially ban mining in the town by limiting excavation operations to 750 cubic yards or 1,000 tons a year -- the equivalent of about a quarter-inch depth of sand, gravel, soil or other natural deposits on an acre of land.

Under the proposed ordinance change, excavation is defined as stripping, digging or other means of removal.

The hearing will be held at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26 in the community center on Two Rod Road. A special Town Board meeting will follow.

Supervisor John Foss noted that, if approved, the ordinance amendment will effectively prohibit mining. He added that the proposed amendment "is not aimed at Pine Hill Concrete," which has expressed interest in mining a section of its Jamison gravel pit.

"But if Pine Hill fits into this, so be it," Foss added.

The town has passed two moratoriums over the last year on special-use permits for mining while the Planning Board and Town Board reviewed the matter.

Councilman Rich Ferber said the town studied geological and flood-plain maps in developing the amendment.

Engineers voiced serious concerns that heavy mining below the water table could affect wells and water supplies in the area. Foss said public input was given heavy weight in developing the amendment.

The town's attorneys, Anthony DiFilippo III and David Seeger, assured the board the proposal could stand up to a court challenge.

Ferber said the only significant mineral deposits are in the northeast corner of town, which is in a residential area and lacks the infrastructure to support mining. He said "mining changes the landscape forever and is in conflict with the master plan, impacts on land values and the safety of the residents."

The proposed zoning amendment provides that mines currently in operation or those with state Department of Environmental Conservation permits are grandfathered along with tiny operations.

Foss questioned how the proposed amendment would affect Leon Berner, the only farmer who operates a sand mine in town under an old special-use permit. DiFilippo and Seeger responded that the proposed ordinance would allow Berner to increase his operations but only to the extent of the property he had when he received the permit.

Exemptions to the amendment allow agricultural and construction activities such as grading, land clearing and site preparation for residential, commercial and industrial construction projects that exceed the 750-cubic-yard or 1,000-ton-per-year limit with a cap of 10,000 cubic yards.

The board chose not to establish a mining zoning district as recommended by the Planning Board, believing the proposed amendment was sufficient.

Councilman Earl Gingerich Jr. said the timing was not right for a mining zoning district and that the proposed amendment "fills holes in the current ordinance. . . ."

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