The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced March 15 that it has reached a settlement with the Sand Land mine, atop a sensitive part of the South Fork’s largest aquifer in the hills of Noyac, requiring Sand Land to cease mining within a maximum of eight years.
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele is concerned about the details of the settlement, which was touted by the DEC as a victory for water quality, even though the DEC had issued an opinion in September of last year that the mine should be closed within two years.
“Despite intense community interest, the settlement was negotiated behind closed doors with no community involvement,” said Mr. Thiele in a March 18 statement. “In summary, the settlement provides for the expansion of the existing sand mine by permitting the depth of the mine to be increased by 40 additional feet. It would also permit sand mining to continue until the year 2027 with reclamation to be completed two years later.”
A report issued by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services in June of 2018 found elevated levels of numerous minerals and contaminants in test wells at the site, where complex hydrogeological conditions involving clay and silt make it difficult for scientists to determine the direction the contamination will travel.
In March of 2018, the Suffolk County Health Department began testing 36 private wells downgradient from the contamination, though none of those drinking water wells were found to yet have levels of the contaminants in excess of drinking water standards.
The sand mine, a 50-acre site on Middle Line Highway just east of Millstone Road, is currently a pre-existing, non-conforming use in the mostly residential area.
At the time of the report, Sand Land had been in the process of attempting to renew its mining permit, which was extended for five years as part of the settlement.
Environmentalists have long called for investigations into potential contamination at the site, and pushed the DEC to close the mine after the health department’s report was released.
“Sand Land is a proven polluter and a lawbreaker,” said Mr. Thiele. “The Suffolk County Department of Health Services issued a report conclusively demonstrating that the groundwater under the mine is contaminated with pollutants associated with activities conducted at the mine. State courts have found that Sand Land has not complied with the Southampton Town Zoning Code. The State DEC acknowledges that state mining regulations have been previously violated resulting in a consent order and penalties.”
According to the DEC, the mining operation is also required to implement several new actions to protect water quality as part of the legal settlement, which “requires Sand Land to immediately stop the acceptance of vegetated waste, requires implementation of an extensive groundwater monitoring program, prevents any horizontal expansion of the mine, substantially increases the amount of financial security posted by the mine, and directs the mine to cease operations within eight years and complete reclamation in less than 10 years to ensure the site’s return to productive use.”
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos touted the settlement as a victory for environmentalists in the department’s March 15 press release.
“DEC listened to the concerns of the community and is requiring Sand Land to shut down operations in eight years and fully reclaim the mine within 10 years, as well as implement the most comprehensive monitoring and oversight program of its kind to protect the region’s water quality,” he said. “New York State will continue our aggressive on-the-ground oversight to ensure Sand Land complies with all rules and regulations and to ensure that its operations do not threaten the environment, especially our precious groundwater resource.”
Mr. Thiele was not impressed.
“The State DEC touts a ban on vegetative waste as part of the settlement, but the Town of Southampton won that battle in state court years ago,” said Mr. Thiele. “The DEC also touts institution of new groundwater monitoring at the mine. However, the county has already demonstrated that the groundwater is polluted and the pollutants are those associated with activities at the mine. In addition, state legislation was passed last year that gives the Town the right to do its own groundwater monitoring at sand mines. What is the public benefit of this settlement?”
The DEC had sent a letter to the owners of Sand Land and to the media in September of 2018 saying that “based on the continued concerns regarding the facility’s impacts on the environment, DEC is seeking to modify this facility’s permit to require the cessation of mining operations and require completion of reclamation within two years.”
“The State DEC had it right the first time. The mine should close now, not in 2027,” said Mr. Thiele. “If the State DEC refuses to protect our water, then other remedies must be explored. In the short term, it is imperative that the State DEC have public hearings on this proposed permit application. The level of public interest is high and the environmental stakes for the community are even higher. The proposed settlement must not be rubber stamped, but must be subjected to the most stringent environmental review required by law.”