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Sand Land Plaintiffs Grow Impatient

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 14:37

While a challenge to the State Department of Environmental Conservation concerning the Sand Land mine in Noyac makes its slow way through the courts, Acting Supreme Court Justice James H. Ferreira has been asked to intervene in a dispute between the two sides.

Attorneys concluded their arguments in October, but the petitioners, including Southampton Town, the Noyac Civic Council, and several others, have asserted that the D.E.C. failed to provide them with important documents.

“The D.E.C. disagrees with that . . . and so it is an issue that the parties have asked the judge to get involved with,” said David Arntsen, a partner with the law offices of Thomas M. Volz, which is representing Southampton Town in the lawsuit.

The complaint seeks to nullify an agreement made between the D.E.C. and Sand Land, which is operated by Wainscott Sand and Gravel and owned by John Tintle, in March 2019, extending Sand Land’s mining permit to allow it to dig another 40 feet down in the 31 acres for which it previously had a permit. Under that agreement, the mine could operate for eight additional years, but no more, before taking on a larger reclamation process. In May, Justice Ferreira put on hold a clause that would have allowed Sand Land to dig in a three-acre parcel known as the “stump dump,” where vegetative waste was once processed.

Water tests performed by Suffolk County showed the presence of pollutants in the ground such as ammonia, gross alpha (radioactivity), iron, and manganese in excess of the amounts allowed by drinking water standards. Sand Land has disputed those results.

While they await a court ruling, Noyac residents have expressed irritation over the length of time it has taken Justice Ferreira, who serves Albany County, to decide the case.

“The town is not doing anything. The D.E.C. is not doing anything. Who is protecting our water?” demanded Elena Loreto, the president of the Noyac Civic Council. “That’s what we want to know. Who is cleaning up the contamination? That’s what we want to know. Eventually all this contamination seeps into the bays, not just our faucets. It’s not just affecting homeowners in the area. It will affect the total environment.”

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who plans to introduce a law in the State Legislature giving local municipalities more authority over mining operations, also weighed in on the delay. “Certainly the court challenges have been frustrating,” Mr. Thiele said this week. “We’ve been back and forth. It was aggressively pursued. The case is before the judge, and hopefully we’ll get a decision shortly.”

Ms. Loreto said Mr. Thiele was “the only one who’s been outspoken.”

“Come on, guys, get with the program here,” she said. “We’re not asking for a lot. We just want safe water.”

Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, another complainant, said he understands the judge has a lot to consider, “but there is also an urgency here.”

“The longer this issue remains open, the greater the opportunity for groundwater contamination of the South Fork’s most sensitive water supply area,” Mr. DeLuca said. “Moreover, with several other mines in our area now coming in for expansion — East Hampton, Southampton, and Riverhead — and those expansions seeking depth increases directly into groundwater, the D.E.C.’s pattern of lax oversight and its undeniable cheerleading for industrial development over our water supply is hardening into a fixed and reckless policy that runs contrary to decades of work to protect our underground drinking water supply.”

Brian Matthews, an East Hampton attorney representing Sand Land, said yesterday that the case was “proceeding in a normal fashion.”

“The only reason for any perceived delay in the court’s rendering of a final decision is the extensive-motion practice by the petitioners, including numerous injunction motions attempting to stop mining, all of which were denied in all material respects, and a motion by the county attempting to intervene in the action, which was also denied,” he said.

Mr. Arntsen said there was “no deadline for the judge to rule.”

“He might be waiting for the collateral issue to be resolved,” the lawyer said. “We don’t get insight and he doesn’t have to report to the parties. There are a lot of papers in the proceeding, and some complex arguments. It’s not one the judge can just spit out.”

Recent inspections of the Sand Land mine performed by the D.E.C. largely showed compliance with its permit. A Dec. 20, 2019, inspection notes that vegetative waste, the processing of which has been prohibited at the mine, and crushed bluestone and concrete had been removed in accordance with a notice of violation. An inspector visited the mine on three consecutive days in November. Screening, drainage, noise control, dust control, hauling roads, and other factors were all up to snuff, but on Nov. 22 there were issues with overburdened spoils piles and certain “special conditions” had not been met.

Also on Nov. 22, water samples were taken from multiple monitoring wells. The D.E.C. said in a statement yesterday that the samples met clean-water standards in all wells but one.

“The water sampled from this well tested above the groundwater standard for iron, manganese, and arsenic. Iron and manganese are naturally occurring as they are frequently detected at concentrations exceeding groundwater standards throughout Long Island,” the D.E.C. said. “There is no known correlation between sand mining and these analytes. D.E.C. is continuing to monitor the groundwater to determine the source of these elevated concentrations. Drinking water is not impacted.”

Mr. Matthews said Sand Land was “pleased, but not surprised, with the results.” The mine has “steadfastly rejected any claim that its use of the property has resulted in any groundwater contamination” that the residents’, town’s, and citizens’ arguments rely on, he said.

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