The talk about a sand pit in the town of Hannibal has yet to quell, as residents are still asking questions and another has offered Oswego County his sand pit, located right next to the pit shrouded in controversy.
In May 2012, Oswego County Highway Superintendent Kurt Ospelt entered into a contract to mine property on Woodruff Road belonging to former county legislator Jack Beckwith. Ospelt failed to acquire the proper approvals, including approval from the legislature’s Infrastructure, Facilities and Technology Committee, which oversees the county highway department.
Ospelt had county employees build an access road, which cost $30,000. The road had not been completed when neighbors began questioning it, and Ospelt issued a letter to the town planning board July 16 stating that he was halting the project.
As the road to reach the Beckwith pit was under construction, a road on the other side of the property was ready to use. Hannibal resident Bill Simmons, who also owns a sand pit, said he would have allowed the county to use his Mill Street access road, if he had been asked. The Mill Street road accesses both his sand pit and the Beckwith pit and can handle heavy trucks.
“It was a big secret deal,” Simmons said about the Beckwith contract, noting that he had offered the county his sand pit in the past.
County officials said the Beckwith pit was needed because the county had to supply sand for neighboring towns to use in the winter. The towns plow county roads, and the county plows state roads. The towns had been obtaining sand from the county’s transfer station in Hannibal; Ospelt sent a letter to town superintendents telling them the towns could no longer use the transfer station site and that they would need to haul sand from Scriba. He offered no explanation for the change.
Simmons said he has once again offered his sand to the county for $1 per cubic yard, the same price as in the contract between Ospelt and Beckwith. The price is standard for all property owners who give mining rights to the county. Simmons said he sent a certified letter to Ospelt earlier in October offering his sand pit to the county.
Ospelt has not responded to repeated requests to comment on the issue.
According to County Administrator Phil Church, future sand contracts will require the approval of the legislature’s Infrastructure, Facilities and Technology Committee. It met July 30 to discuss the matter, and Ospelt, a 36-year employee, sat quietly as Church explained that no mines had been opened on private land since Ospelt became the highway superintendent in 2006.
But meeting minutes show Ospelt handled issues relating to mining permits almost two dozen times since 1993, when he was deputy highway superintendent:
• July 15, 1993: Ospelt requested approval to purchase property on county Route 45 with gravel the county could mine.
• March 6, 1996: Ospelt submitted a map showing the locations of the sand and gravel pits owned or operated by the county and the expiration dates of the mining permits.
• May 1, 1996: Ospelt advised the committee that he was looking into the purchase of 50 acres on Vandercamp Road, Constantia, for a sand pit.
• June 12, 1996: Ospelt received committee approval to negotiate a price for the Crouse gravel pit.
• July 17, 1996: Ospelt discussed the negotiation for the Crouse gravel pit after the committee requested more information.
• July 31, 1996: The committee was told that Ospelt had a meeting scheduled with the owner of a sandpit in Constantia to discuss a purchase price.
• Dec. 11, 1996: Ospelt explained that the amount of sand purchased from Clark Aggregates exceeded the amount
allowed by county rules and that bidding procedures should have been followed. Ospelt said it was a misunderstanding on his part.
• Dec. 30, 1996: The committee authorized Ospelt to request the county attorney to prepare a lease agreement for sand and gravel mining on 100 acres on Vandercamp Road.
• Dec. 30, 1996: Purchasing Director Patrick Finn submitted five vouchers for payment from five sand pit owners. Finn noted that the new county rules require bidding. The committee approved paying the bills.
• Jan. 15, 1997: Ospelt explained that there was a misunderstanding in regard to the price quote for the Vandercamp pit. The committee informally requested Ospelt negotiate a proposal.
• Feb: 4, 1998: The committee approved a request made by Ospelt to purchase 5,000 tons of sand from Clark Aggregates.
• May 7, 1998: Ospelt requested approval from the committee to dig test holes on the Harold Brockett property for winter sand.
• Oct. 19, 1999: Ospelt requested permission to sign a new gravel agreement with Kenneth Farmer at a new rate of 85 cents per cubic yard.
• May 17, 2000: The committee gave approval to Ospelt to negotiate with Har old Brockett for a sand lease.
Aug. 2, 2000: The committee approved a lease for the Harold Brockett sand mine at the request of Ospelt.
• Aug. 30, 2001: Ospelt reported that a woman had contacted him about selling gravel. Legislators gave Ospelt permission to negotiate with her.
• Sept. 11, 2001: The committee gave approval to Ospelt to enter into a gravel agreement with a property owner on state Route 69.
• Oct. 10, 2001: Ospelt reported to the committee that Ricelli Enterprises was interested in selling five gravel beds.
• Nov. 14, 2001: Ospelt gave the committee an update on the gravel beds he was interested in purchasing.
• June 19, 2002: Ospelt provided the committee with an update on the sand and gravel pits owned or operated by the county.
• Nov. 17, 2004: Ospelt requested an increase in cost for the Franklin Sampson pit. The committee denied the request.
Ospelt was appointed as the interim highway superintendent in 2006 and was named superintendent in 2007.
Neither Church nor Legislature Chairman Kevin Gardner responded to questions about why so many contracts had gone before the committee yet the Beckwith pit contract wasn’t discussed at any committee meetings.
The Democratic caucus asked Gardner to conduct an Article 14 investigation, as allowed by county rules. Gardner denied the request to further investigate the matter.
The county spent a reported $10,000 to remove the access road to the Beckwith pit. Construction included road fabric, piping and almost $2,500 in waste stone. Labor costs were $12,077, although Gardner said July 30 that the labor costs would have been paid regardless of where the employees had been working.
Beckwith said he was not looking for a sweetheart deal but simply trying to save the county some money by offering his sand at a low price. At the time, Beckwith said, he didn’t know the county pays a standard rate for sand.