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Sand Land Prevails in Court

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 09:57
The Sand Land mine is located in Noyac.
Doug Kuntz

In a Sept. 3 decision, a State Supreme Court justice upheld an expanded permit for the Sand Land mine in Noyac, awarded by the State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2019. The permit has been tied up in litigation ever since.

The decision means that Sand Land can dig 40 feet deeper in its already permitted 31 acres, and expand into the "stump dump," a three-acre area where it mulched organic vegetative waste. The D.E.C. had also, in April, allowed Sand Land to accept crushed concrete aggregate, crushed stone, and finished compost, which had not been allowed before.

Shortly after it was awarded, the 2019 permit was challenged by a coalition of civic groups, government entities, and others, including the Noyac Civic Council, Southampton Town, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and the Bridge Golf Club. The challenge was based on  water quality tests performed by Suffolk County in October 2017, which at first showed contaminants in groundwater at the mine. Those findings have since been called into question because monitoring wells later tested within normal limits.

Elena Loreto, president of the Noyac Civic Council, called the court's decision "total nonsense."

"It's very disturbing when justice does not prevail," she said this week. "The judge ignored all the logical facts, that the D.E.C. is ignoring protecting our water."

Brian E. Matthews, the attorney representing Wainscott Sand and Gravel, which owns the mine, called Acting Justice James H. Ferreira's ruling "a well-reasoned and thorough 42-page decision."

"The allegations of harm were speculative and insufficient to demonstrate that sand and gravel mining caused groundwater contamination, or any other harm for that matter," Mr. Matthews said.

The plaintiffs have already filed an appeal, Mr. Thiele said on Tuesday. However, his name will no longer be on the paperwork, Justice Ferreira having ruled that he had no standing in the case.

"There are plenty of plaintiffs and petitioners to carry the lawsuit forward. Whether I'm a petitioner or not . . . I'm still going to be an advocate for clean water," Mr. Thiele said. "The judge was wrong on the facts, wrong on the law, and wrong on the science. It has been documented by [Suffolk County] that there is pollution on that site that violates federal and state and drinking-water standards. It was ignored by the D.E.C. and now by the State Supreme Court. I think an appeal is warranted, and I'm glad to see the town and the other petitioners are going to go forward."

Mr. Matthews called for Southampton Town to drop the case, saying that "at this juncture, it is well past time for the town to stop wasting the taxpayers' time, money, and resources to benefit the few. Instead, the town owes it to its residents and taxpayers to turn its attention in-house, and focus its money and resources on ensuring that its own facilities are in order. . . ."

In a statement Friday, a D.E.C. spokeswoman said the State Supreme Court's "recent favorable decision supporting [the] issuance of the Sand Land permit is confirmation of New York’s diligent and science-based project review that protects public health and the environment. D.E.C. led the way to put Sand Land on the path to closure and will continue our rigorous oversight of this facility and ensure compliance with the stringent requirements in place."

Separately, Sand Land is facing Southampton in the town's court system over a permit violation issued earlier this year. According to James Burke, an attorney for the town, Justice Deborah E. Kooperstein adjourned the case on Friday to a future date at the request of Sand Land's legal team. 

The mine's most recent state inspection was on Aug. 19, at which time no violations were found. The report does note that some aspects of the mine were not examined because it had started to rain.

This story has been updated since it was first published.

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