The operators of a sand mine in Noyac were served a summons by town fire marshals last week for continuing to grind stone and sell aggregate materials despite having been told the activity is illegal on the site.
Neighbors and environmentalists are calling on Southampton Town officials to force the Sand Land Corporation pit, which is owned by Wainscott Sand & Gravel, to halt at least some of its operations while the courts review the company’s challenge of a 2012 ruling by the Town Zoning Board of Appeals, which said the activities were outside the scope permitted at the site.
“The town’s argument has been that they’re not going to enforce while there’s an appeal pending,” said Brian Sexton, an attorney for Robert Rubin, the owner of The Bridge, a private golf club adjacent to the Sand Land property. “They’re saying that if someone builds a house and it’s illegal, we don’t make them tear it down. I said, I agree, but you don’t let them keep building it, either.”
In 2011, Southampton Town Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa issued a ruling that sand stockpiling and composting on the property was in compliance with the property’s grandfathered use as a sand mine. But he found that rock grinding was taking place on the property, and it was not part of the property’s decades-old permitted use. Last year, the Zoning Board of Appeals overturned another part of Mr. Benincasa’s determination and declared the composting work also to be illegal on the site.
Representatives of Sand Land’s owner, John Tintle, filed a lawsuit challenging the ZBA’s ruling, which is still pending.
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst conceded this week that the town has made a conscious decision to wait for the judge’s ruling in the case before taking any enforcement action against the sand pit.
“We’re monitoring it very closely—our fire marshals and code enforcement have been up there, and we have cited them,” she said. “But we are waiting for the judge’s decision on their use, which we understand is imminent, and we are ready to take action when the time is right for that. Clearly, they are in violation, and we acknowledge that.”
David Eagan, an attorney with Eagan & Matthews PLLC, which is representing Mr. Tintle, acknowledged that Sand Land had received a “very vague” summons from the town last week, but he maintained that the business operates under guidelines dictated by the State Department of Environmental Conservation and is in compliance with those. He said the campaign for town intervention in his client’s 50-year-old business is being pushed by the deep-pocketed Mr. Rubin, because the 20 housing lots that are part of The Bridge development plan are situated along the ridge that overlooks the pit.
“This is just another chapter in a long story written—or underwritten, I should say—by Robert Rubin, to shut down our client’s long-standing business,” Mr. Eagan said. “He willingly placed his luxury housing properties next to this business, which has been operating since 1960, and now he wants to shut it down. But we are confident this operation will be deemed legal by the courts and will be allowed to continue, and we anxiously await that.”
Environmentalists—ironically, some of the same ones who sparred mightily with Mr. Rubin in the late 1990s over his plans to build The Bridge, worried about its environmental impact—are now siding with him in opposition to the pit’s ongoing operations.
Robert DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, one of the most strident critics of The Bridge, said that for the same reasons he and others opposed the golf course development, the sand pit’s operations should be stopped as soon as possible. Sitting atop the moraine that serves as the main recharge area of the deepest part of the South Fork’s sole-source drinking water aquifer, the sand pit poses a substantial threat to drinking water supplies for the entire region.
“These operations concentrate metals well above safe drinking water standards,” Mr. DeLuca said, noting that the Sand Land site had recently been added to a Suffolk County list of composting operations that pose a concern for potential impacts to groundwater, and that the DEC just last week released an alarming report on groundwater contamination caused by a large composting operation in Yaphank. “This should start us down the path of taking a look at the groundwater implications here, starting with putting in testing wells around the property.”
He said that in the long run, the town should be looking to use its powers of amortization to do away with such nuisance businesses over time, similar to the steps it has taken to force the closure of some much maligned nightclubs.
In the meantime, the operation has clearly made some efforts to clean up its act, literally. Giant mounds of mulch material for the composting operation, which had been piled along the entrance to the 51-acre property along a publicly held stretch of Middle Line Highway, have been removed from the roadside and piled within the pit. The rock grinding operation also has been scaled back, Mr. Sexton said, and on Tuesday bulldozers could be seen continuing an effort to fill in, or reclaim, the deepest part of the pit, some 160 vertical feet below the edge of the surrounding hillside.
“There is one-tenth as much activity now as there was four months ago,” Mr. Sexton said, while overlooking the pit from The Bridge property this week. “The town sent them a cease-and-desist order for the mulch on the public right-of-way, but they just dumped it into the pit.
“They’re very clever guys,” he added. “If this wasn’t right on top of the aquifer recharge area, Harvard Business School would do a study on their business—they get paid to take it in, and they get paid to move it out. They’re making money at both ends.”