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The Cattaraugus County Legislature is giving the Planning Board an extra month to finalize recommendations on gravel-mining operations.

If the recommendations are accepted by the Legislature during a March 22 meeting, they could be used by county and local governments as a tool to ease the environmental impact of gravel mines on rural areas.

In a letter last week, Legislator Patrick J. McCrea, chairman of the Development and Agriculture Committee, confirmed lawmakers' approval to reschedule the February deadline for the final report.

"We are pleased with the well-thought-out study process and look forward to receiving your findings at the end of March. It is of exceptional importance that this gravel study be discussed carefully and fully before it is submitted to the Cattaraugus County Legislature," McCrea's statement said.

Last spring and summer, there were several new mining proposals in the Route 16 and Route 98 corridors, prompting the Planning Board to recommend the denial of one state permit application.

But a permit was issued anyway, even after the Legislature requested additional time to review an environmental-impact statement and asked that the state evaluate regional impact by performing a cumulative impact study on operations in the region.

Legislators, meanwhile, asked the Planning Board to study growth issues and find alternatives to help ease the impact of such operations. The Planning Board assigned the project to the special projects subcommittee.

As part of the research, planner Carol O'Brien noted last November that more than 4,500 acres of land are controlled in the corridor by gravel interests, with a market value surpassing $6.5 million but assessed at just more than $4.3 million.

After meeting with town and village representatives, gravel industry proponents and a state Department of Environmental Conservation official, the committee adopted priorities in December.

Committee members think that there is a need for state legislation to correct inconsistencies in environmental laws that allow mining permits, despite local prohibitions. The group also focused on more help for local governments in reclamation plans and pursuit of better zoning or land-use planning.

Other points included fostering cooperation between communities and the gravel industry, a review of property assessments, and the possibility of imposing fees on aggregate exports.

The subcommittee will hold one more round of discussion on the issues and draft its final recommendations Feb. 14. County planners will then write the report, to be presented to the Planning Board for approval during a Feb. 24 meeting. The report then will be referred to the Legislature.

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