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Mining Oversight Bill Passes State Legislature

Wed, 07/29/2020 - 18:45

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. announced last Thursday that legislation he co-sponsored that would strengthen oversight of mining to protect water quality unanimously passed both houses of the State Legislature.

The legislation was based on recommendations of a grand jury empaneled in the county in 2018 and 2019 regarding illegal dumping and sand mining regulation. State Senator Todd Kaminsky, chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, was the legislation's sponsor in the Senate.

If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signs it into law, it would apply to counties with a population of one million or more and in which a designated sole source aquifer provides drinking water for the majority of residents. Both Suffolk and Nassau Counties fit those parameters. It would give new regulatory authority to local governments over mining activities to protect water quality, alongside state oversight. It would also eliminate exemptions for mining relating to construction and agricultural activities.

"The unanimous passage of this legislation is a major victory for the environment and our community," Mr. Thiele said in a statement. "I am proud to have worked with Senator Kaminsky and [Suffolk] District Attorney [Timothy] Sini on this important legislation and will continue to fight for the safety of our drinking water."

Last month, the East Hampton Town Board directed an outside law firm to begin legal proceedings against the State Department of Environmental Conservation and/or Sand Highway L.L.C., seeking annulment of the former's amended permit, issued on March 30, allowing excavation below the groundwater table at Middle Highway, East Hampton, and the creation of an approximately six-acre pond there. The D.E.C.'s 2019 determination that the expansion of the pit would not have a significant negative effect on its surroundings came over the strong objections of Mr. Thiele, the town board, the Group for the East End, the Suffolk County Water Authority, and a coalition of about 250 residents.

The site is in a residential zone, where mining uses are prohibited, although under the town code the operation is classified as a pre-existing, nonconforming facility. The lawsuit will seek to enjoin Sand Highway from commencing and/or continuing any activities authorized under the amended D.E.C. permit, on the grounds that such activities violate the town's zoning code, which prohibits the expansion of, or change to, previous nonconforming uses.

Also last month, a State Supreme Court justice approved Southampton Town's request for a preliminary injunction against Sand Land, a mine in Noyac, preventing it "from processing trees, brush, stumps, leaves, and other clearing debris into topsoil or mulch and from storing, selling, or delivering mulch, topsoil, and wood chips." In announcing that injunction, Mr. Thiele called it "a major victory for the environment," echoing municipalities, environmental advocacy groups, and citizens who asserted that activities at the mine contaminated groundwater with heavy metals and other substances.

In April, Sand Land received an updated D.E.C. permit allowing it to accept crushed stone, crushed concrete aggregate, and finished compost, which were previously not allowed. Sand Land's attorney, Brian E. Matthews, has consistently disputed claims that the mine's operations cause groundwater contamination.

With Reporting by Christine Sampson

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