Angry Hannibal neighbors force county to abandon sand quarry project

Oswego County highway crews showed up at Woodruff Road, just outside the Village of Hannibal, Wednesday morning to begin tearing down a road they had built just a few weeks ago.

The collective anger of a number of Hannibal residents forced the Oswego County Highway Department to abandon a project to build an access road to a sand quarry.

Bob Cunningham says people were never told of the plan to mine sand from a former quarry so that it can be spread on the roads during the winter. "They snuck it in on people. I didn't hear nothing about it until after it was done," he said.

In a letter to the Hannibal Planning Board, Oswego County Highway Superintendent Kurt Ospelt informed the residents that he had decided to abandon the project and "restore the property to its original condition."

Tim Harmon didn't know about the road adjacent to his property until he returned to his home from Florida last month. He and other neighbors researched the project and found that although the state DEC had issued a mining permit, the county did not follow proper procedures.

Harmon says the highway department did not notify the Town Planning Board nor the residents. It also did not tell the State Transportation Department that the county was connecting the road to State Route 3.

A spokesman for the DOT told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon that the county had not applied for a permit, which would be required of such an intersection with a state road.

"I find it pretty surprising that a county can put in a road basically illegally without letting any of the residents know without letting anybody in the town know," Harmon said.

Oswego County Highway Superintendent Kurt Ospelt said he thought "it was the DEC's responsibility to notify people", since the DEC published an official notice in a local newspaper about the mining permit. "If you don't see it in the paper, nobody knows about it," he said.

Ospelt said, "I'm just looking for winter sand so people can drive safely." But he added, "there was a big uproar...things got out of hand, so we said to heck with it."

The sand pit property is owned by former Oswego County Legislator Jack Beckwith who agreed to lease his land to the Oswego County Highway Department. Some people in Hannibal feel it could have been a "sweetheart deal" that went wrong.

Beckwith says he contacted the county because he felt such a sand quarry could save taxpayers on the cost of sanding roads during the winter. He says he would have received $1.00 per yard of sand and would only make less than $12 thousand a year under the contract with the county. "Enough to pay my taxes and go on a week's vacation. I'm not going to get rich on this thing."

Beckwith denies any sweetheart deal with the county. "Well it's not. I'd like to tell you right now I've always been honest with the people of Hannibal. I've never lied to them, and I've never had an underhanded deal. I don't do that."

Ospelt says it cost $33,000 to build the road and it will cost another $10,000 to tear it out. The total cost to taxpayers comes to $43,000. Work should be completed by the end of the month.

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