By Stephen J. Kotz
A unanimous ruling last week by the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court has apparently put an end to many of the operations neighbors have long complained about at the Sand Land sand mine off Millstone Road and Middle Line Highway in Noyac.
The four-member judicial panel, in a March 30 ruling, upheld a 2012 Southampton Zoning Board of Appeals determination that Wainscott Sand and Gravel, which operates on the Sand Land Corporation site, did not have the right to take in trees and other vegetative waste and process it into wood chips, mulch and top soil for resale. The ZBA had also ruled Wainscott Sand and Gravel could not receive concrete, asphalt, bricks and other construction debris that is recycled into concrete blend material and often used for driveway bases.
The ruling has no impact on Sand Land’s separate application to expand its sand mine operations by excavating an additional 45 feet below grade. The state Department of Environmental Conservation rejected that application last year, but Sand Land has appealed the decision.
“We have let all customers know that as of next Monday we will no longer be accepting brush and land clearing debris,” said John Tintle, the owner of both companies, on Tuesday. The step was “in preparation for what may be a new reality for the site,” he added.
Mr. Tintle said he was still reviewing his legal options but in the meantime had reached out to Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman to seek a six-month period to “wind down this business that has operated in this capacity for 50 years, process what is on site and have an opportunity to sell it as a means of removing the inventory.”
On Tuesday, Supervisor Schneiderman said he did not know if there was any reason for a meeting if Mr. Tintle wanted to continue operations that have now been ruled illegal by the court.
“I don’t believe he can continue those activities,” he said. “The court was very clear in its decision.”
The site has been commonly used by East End landscapers and contractors, who haul clearing and demolition debris to the site at the start of the building process and return to purchase mulch and topsoil as projects near completion. A steady stream of dump trucks, large and small, enters and exits the site all day long.
But neighbors, including The Bridge golf club, which wants to develop neighboring parcels into residential lots, have sought to have the site controlled, if not shut down altogether, for more than a decade. Those efforts have gathered steam as studies conducted by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services have shown a high correlation between commercial mulching operations and groundwater contamination. Since the Sand Land site sits atop the East End’s aquifer, and the mining operation has already carved out a pit approximately 65 feet deep, those concerns have taken on new urgency.
“I think this decision goes a long way to vindicate the town, the public and environmental organizations’ concerns about this facility,” said Bob DeLuca, the president of the Group for the East End, who has been a staunch critic of the mulching operations at the site. “The town should now move immediately to enforce this decision and extinguish these illegal uses from the site.”
Elena Loreto, the chairwoman of the Noyac Civic Council, whose members have long discussed the possible environmental impacts of the Sand Land site, said she was still concerned about groundwater contamination.
“I think it’s time for the health department to monitor our groundwater by installing test wells at various locations on site,” she said. “It’s time for the health department to step up.”
Supervisor Schneiderman said he had heard from landscaping companies who told him the operation was being shut down and asking him where they would take their waste and also from neighbors who said activity had seemed to pick up at the site over the past week.
He said he would confer with the town attorney and the town board to determine whether the town would seek a restraining order or take some other enforcement action.
Sand Land, which has operated as a sand mine for decades — even before Southampton Town adopted its first rudimentary zoning code in 1957 — had originally sought a ruling from the town building inspector in 2010 to legalize the mulching and construction debris recycling uses after the town and neighbors had joined together in 2005 in a legal effort to rein in the activities at the 50-acre site. The company’s attorneys argued the uses had been ongoing since before the property was rezoned from industrial to residential use.
In making its ruling last week, the judicial panel overturned a state Supreme Court decision, issued in 2014, that had upheld Sand Land’s position.