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Court Puts Hold on Sand Land Mine Expansion

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 14:59

A coalition of local civic groups, neighbors, nonprofit organizations, and government officials was successful Friday in obtaining a preliminary injunction against the Sand Land mine in Noyac that puts expanded mining on hold.

Acting New York State Supreme Court Justice James H. Ferreira granted the injunction and said the petitioners, including the Noyac Civic Council, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Group for the East End, Southampton Town, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., and others, showed evidence “sufficient to demonstrate that there is a danger of irreparable harm” if mining is allowed to widen and deepen at Sand Land. According to Justice Ferreira’s decision, Sand Land has denied as much, but has “failed to demonstrate how they will be harmed or prejudiced if the injunction is granted” with respect to the expanded mining area in question.

“This is a major victory for the environment, our drinking water, and the community at large,” Mr. Thiele said in a statement Monday. “This will permit the neighbors, the civics, and elected officials to make the case to the court that the expansion of this mine is an illegal threat to the environment without fear of additional harm to our drinking water.”

Neither John Tintle, owner of Sand Land, nor Brian E. Matthews, the attorney representing the mine, could be reached for comment by press time this week.

The court challenge stemmed from a decision in March by the State Department of Environmental Conservation that would allow Sand Land to expand its mine across about three more acres, and dig 40 feet deeper than its previous permit allowed. That decision was part of a settlement that would also allow the mine to operate for eight more years before it would have to begin land reclamation efforts over a 10-year span. The agreement also established a groundwater-monitoring program.

The expanded mining area in question has been dubbed the “stump dump,” a former disposal area for vegetative organic waste, which Sand Land’s opponents claim could pose a severe threat to the environment. According to court documents, the D.E.C. settlement included the three-acre stump dump in Sand Land’s “mined land use plan.” It had not been included in previous plans or permits.

Sand Land’s opponents tapped Dr. Stuart Z. Cohen, an organic chemist and groundwater expert, who analyzed previous groundwater testing results that found significant evidence of pollution. He provided a written affidavit testifying that mining the stump dump would likely further contaminate groundwater in the area.

Dr. Cohen also wrote that “excavating the bottom of the pit deeper will be conducive to increased water flow . . . thus mining activity in this area is likely to result in a funnel effect of the contaminants, essentially increasing the speed at which they enter the aquifer.”

The Article 78 complaint against Sand Land, owned by Sand Land Corporation and Wainscott Sand and Gravel, also targeted the D.E.C., with the goal of forcing it to stop processing Sand Land’s mining permit application. However, Justice Ferreira did not order the D.E.C. to push pause on the application.

According to Mr. Thiele, the D.E.C.’s settlement with Sand Land in March was a reversal of its previous directive in September 2018 to close the mine. He called for the D.E.C. to reconsider its settlement.

“They need to be on the side of the public, not the polluter,” Mr. Thiele said. “We desire nothing more than to protect our drinking water. That should also be the mission of the state D.E.C. The public should be heard. No permit should be granted for expansion. The mine should be closed.”

The D.E.C. issued a statement Tuesday saying it could not comment on pending litigation, but said, “Our comprehensive settlement has put this facility on the path to closure and secured the most stringent and aggressive oversight and protection of water quality over any facility of its kind in New York State. D.E.C. will continue to be a regular presence on the site and will take immediate action if any violations are found.”

Elena Loreto, president of the Noyac Civic Council, called Justice Ferreira’s decision “wonderful.”

“It’s about time a judge opened up his eyes and looked at what was really going on,” she said Tuesday. “I think it’s a huge win for us.”

The Noyac Civic Council recently sent the D.E.C. a petition with 757 signatures opposing the settlement and calling for a public hearing, but Ms. Loreto said they have not heard back.

“We’re in limbo,” she said. “We have many questions, and we want answers.”

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