Environmental advocates and Southampton Town officials this week urged New York State to reconsider the potential negative impacts of a sand mine in Noyac before approving a request by the mine’s operators to expand its use.
A 60-day public comment period on the expansion proposal for the sand mine known as “Sand Land” ended on Friday, and opponents held a press conference and viewing of the property on Monday to again urge the state to deny further expanding the mine’s operations.
“Going back to the 1980s, the area we’re talking about was designated as a critical environmental area because of its groundwater protection concerns,” said Robert DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, which co-hosted the press conference on Monday with the Citizens Group for the Environment. “The State of New York passed legislation … saying this area was in need of additional protection. These morainal woodlands … are the single most significant watershed area east of the canal,” he said, adding, “That’s supposed to mean something.”
The aquifer below the moraine running across northern Bridgehampton, Noyac and into East Hampton Town is among the deepest on Long Island and supplies the bulk of the drinking water for eastern Southampton and western East Hampton. In most places, the aquifer begins between 80 and 200 feet below the surface.
The mine’s owners, Wainscott Sand & Gravel Inc., have requested permission from the DEC to expand sand excavations by 4.9 acres and to allow the floor of the mine to be excavated another 40 feet down. The Sand Land property is 50 acres, and the excavated area currently extends about 65 feet below its original grade.
The state has already issued a “negative declaration” on the expansion proposal, which categorizes it as unlikely to have significant additional impact on the environment and thus requires no additional review of the conditions. The opponents have asked that the state rescind that declaration and require an environmental impact statement, an exhaustive examination of conditions at the property, plans for its operation, and the potential for negative effects. The EIS process can take many months to complete and can cost the applicants tens of thousands of dollars or more.
The environmental advocates said that sand mines in general are a threat to groundwater supplies and that the use of the property for composting and mulching of vegetative waste and the disposal and processing of construction debris adds to the dangers.
“We know for a fact, according to a New York State DEC report in 2013, that these types of facilities that have compost materials on them cause significant groundwater contamination in the form of heavy metals … as well as increased radiation,” said Adrienne Esposition of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “And yet, this area has never been tested despite our calls for doing so.”
Calls to Wainscott Sand & Gravel’s offices were not returned.
In a letter to the state DEC, Southampton Town’s Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins said that even if the state fails to rescind its negative declaration, the state should make approval of the expansion contingent on the property owners installing monitoring wells throughout the property to test for contaminants leaching into the ground, much as the town required at The Bridge golf club, a neighbor of the sand mine.
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst on Monday said that the strict water monitoring protocols the town imposed on The Bridge and other golf clubs as part of its approval requirements have meant that the golf courses have had little to no impact on groundwater.
“Given the significance for protecting our aquifer … all practical precautions should be taken to ensure that any contamination can be detected sooner rather than later,” Mr. Collins wrote. “Groundwater monitoring through regular and timely sampling is critically important as a means for pro-actively mitigating potential groundwater contamination. The Town of Southampton requires this for new golf courses … and the same should be expected for existing and expanded sand mines.”
The owner of the club, Robert Rubin, also owns several house lots along the ridge that overlooks the mine, and he has been among the most staunch opponents of its operations. On Monday, an attorney for The Bridge, Brian Sexton, said that smells emanating from the property have gotten progressively worse in recent years.
Earlier this spring, state officials said they would investigate claims of the illegal burying of mulch as well as standing water and runoff hazards. But in issuing the negative declaration, Mr. DeLuca said, the state essentially denied that any of those issues existed.
The mine’s operations were issued a new five-year permit last year. Mr. DeLuca said that the state also declined to require a full-scale environmental review of the property’s operations at that time.