DEC: Time to Shut Down Sand Land

Test wells at the Sand Land mine.
Test wells at the Sand Land mine.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has ruled out mining as a future use at the Noyac sand mine Sand Land, which sits atop the deepest and most pristine part of the aquifer that serves the bulk of the South Fork.

The DEC has also ordered that all solid waste be removed from the site by Halloween.

In a Sept. 10 letter from the DEC to Sand Land owner John Tintle, the DEC said its recent studies found very little sand left to mine there, most of which was under an area of the site used to collect organic waste used for making mulch.

A report issued by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services in June of this year 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.

The Health Department found concentrations exceeding drinking water standards for manganese, iron, nitrate and carcinogenic toluene in test wells at the sand mine, according to their report.

Concentrations of manganese were more than 100 times the drinking water standard, and concentrations of iron were more than 200 times the drinking water standard, according to the report, which found that levels of thallium, sodium, nitrate, ammonia and gross alpha also exceeded drinking water standards.

“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,” said the DEC in a Sept. 18 statement.

Sand Land had been in the process of attempting to renew its mining permit, which expires in November of this year. Its owners plan to appeal the ruling.

In March of this year, 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 exceeding the drinking water standards.

But there is concern that the contamination has just made its way into the aquifer, and has not yet begun to move laterally and contaminate nearby properties.

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.

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.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito and Group for the East End President Robert DeLuca wrote a letter to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in early September requesting the permit extension be denied.

“A mine reclamation plan is needed and can be secured through an enforceable consent agreement that allows for a maximum of six months for necessary reclamation activities, but a permit to continue sand mining at this contaminated site is not needed and will only allow for continued contamination,” they wrote in their letter.

“The State DEC has finally recognized what was obvious to the public for months. Sand Land Corp is a polluter that has flouted state and local laws. They should not be permitted to continue. At last, the DEC agrees,” said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who has long pressed for the DEC to close the mine, in a Sept. 17 statement. “This is not the end. However, hopefully, it is the beginning of the end. If history is any guide, we can anticipate more administrative proceedings, as well as litigation from the polluter.

“Further, we must make it clear to the DEC that simple reclamation of the land is not enough. We must be assured that our drinking water is also remediated,” he added. “The decision is a victory for the environment and public health. Today, all levels of government have come to the same conclusion. No more permits. It must be shut down.”

East End Beacon

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