Sand Land Settlement Irks Many

Southampton urged to challenge D.E.C. mine ruling

Calling the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s reversal on the shutdown of the Sand Land industrial mine in Noyac “shocking” and “ridiculous,” local residents and environmentalists appeared at Southampton Town’s March 26 board meeting to urge the town to challenge the controversial settlement the D.E.C. announced with the mine on March 15.

Despite the test results by the Suffolk County Department of Health and an independent expert that showed dangerous contaminants at the 50-acre site on Middle Line Road are leeching into the soil, the D.E.C. extended the mine’s permit another eight years last month and granted permission to dig another 40 feet deeper at the site. 

The settlement is a sharp about-face from the D.E.C.’s ruling last September that ordered Sand Land to stop its mining operations when its permit expired in November and remediate the site by 2020. Now that might not happen until at least 2028.

The settlement was struck after Sand Land’s owner, John A. Tintle, exercised his right to appeal the original ruling.

But it still came as a surprise to local elected officials such as Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who had no idea such talks were even underway. The Group for the East End and Citizens Campaign for the Environment were among the environmental organizations that also blasted the new agreement, calling it a “mind-boggling backroom deal.” 

They are not the only ones who remain upset.

“I am asking you to sue the pants off the D.E.C.,” Elena Loreto, president of the Noyac Civic Council, told the Southampton Town Board at last week’s meeting, after praising the town’s stiff opposition to the mine in the past.

“Do we wait till we have a Love Canal up there before we start acting?” asked John Arendt, another of the Noyac Civic Council’s 500-plus members. “We know there’s a problem.”

Sand Land “scares the hell out of me,” Larry Penny of Noyac told the board, noting that the D.E.C. has also extended the permit for Wainscott Sand and Gravel, another mining operation run by Mr. Tintle. “The D.E.C. has been just god-awful,” said Mr. Penny, a former East Hampton Town director of natural resources (and a Star columnist).

Sand Land is located over a special groundwater protection area that is important to the South Fork’s long-term drinking water supply, not just that of nearby residents. The mine and its numerous opponents have been locked in various iterations of this environmental impact fight for nearly two decades.

Southampton Town sued Sand Land a few years ago for reneging on an agreement to allow the town access to drill and monitor wells on the site. Using those data, the Suffolk Health Department issued a report in July of 2018 stating for the first time that Sand Land’s mining and other operations such as processing vegetative waste, construction debris, compost, and mulch resulted in the release of iron, manganese, ammonia, gross alpha (radioactivity) and numerous other contaminants into the aquifer and deep-water recharge area beneath the site. 

Iron was found in the deepest parts of the water table at concentrations over 200 times the drinking water standard and manganese was found at concentrations at almost 100 times the drinking water standard, the county report stated.

Sand Land’s attorney, Brian Matthews of Matthews, Kirst & Cooley in East Hampton, said in an interview Monday that part of Sand Land’s prevailing argument to the D.E.C. challenged the county’s findings. Mr. Matthews said Sand Land asserted that sand mining alone has never been conclusively shown to cause groundwater pollution, and that Sand Land’s own hired experts had found the vegetative/organic waste the mine was taking in was not polluting the groundwater.

“Still,” Mr. Matthews added, “our client voluntarily agreed to abandon that vegetative [and] organic waste use and focus on the mining operation to mitigate those concerns. We think that went a long way with the D.E.C. That, and there will be monitoring.”

Hardly anyone involved seems convinced the D.E.C.’s latest move is the end of this fight.

Mr. Thiele, speaking in a phone interview Monday, challenged Mr. Matthews’s assertions about sand mining, saying such soil disturbances can reduce the filtering buffer that protects the water table from the contaminants above. “That site is already contaminated, and you can’t wave a wand and make it pristine again,” Mr. Thiele said.

The assemblyman added the path ahead for him and Sand Land’s many other opponents likely will be three-pronged: demanding a formal public hearing on the D.E.C. settlement before the permit is granted, legal action, and legislative action. 

Mr. Thiele previously co-sponsored a bill that allows towns to monitor water quality at mines, and he said he is now researching how to craft new legislation to prevent the issuance of permits for mines over contaminated sites. “There has to be consequences if you find these mines have been contaminated,” he said.

Ms. Loreto, near the end of her remarks last week to the Southampton Town Board, polled the members one by one asking them to declare on the record whether they supported three actions the Noyac Citizens Council was asking for: legal action against the D.E.C., a resolution condemning the D.E.C. settlement, and that the town fight to insert more sophisticated monitoring wells at the mine where it wants them, and not where Sand Land wants them.

All four board members — Tommy John Schiavoni, John Bouvier, Christine Scalera, and Julie Lofsted — said they supported the requests, as did Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.

Mr. Schneiderman said the town will indeed seek greater control of the monitoring process and added, “We are exploring various legal options, and other options” to counteract the settlement.

When Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, also addressed the board, he said the D.E.C. settlement got the size of the mine wrong — again to the benefit of Sand Land. 

“They’ve added acreage,” Mr. DeLuca said, noting the mined portion of the 50-acre site is now listed at 34 acres, not 31. “This is madness.” 

Ms. Loreto agreed.

“There’s too much shady stuff going on,” she said by phone this week. “Sand Land is allowed to continue, yet the D.E.C. will bust the stones of a fisherman for taking a striped bass that’s a quarter of an inch too short. Many of us have written Governor Cuomo. He’s ignoring us. He needs to get involved.”