After half a century of operation, “It’s not the end, but I hope it’s the beginning of the end” for the controversial Sand Land mine in Noyac, Assemblyman Fred. W. Thiele Jr. told the Noyac Civic Council Tuesday night.
Mr. Thiele reported that the state Department of Environmental Conservation had notified the mine’s owner that it intended to “modify” its state permit to operate. That ultimately means “mining is over” there, Mr. Thiele told the applauding crowd in the Old Noyac Schoolhouse.
He said the DEC believes “the circumstances exist to have the permit not renewed and to require reclamation” of the 50-acre site off Middle Line Highway and Millstone Road in Noyac, a pre-existing, non-conforming use in a residential area that dates back to the 1960s.
Identified this June in a scathing Suffolk County Department of Health report as the source of toxic groundwater pollution, the mine — which also has operated as a construction and yard-waste processing facility — is weeks away from the end of its current five-year state mining permit.
“The DEC made the right decision,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman commented on Tuesday. “No more mining or waste processing is allowed. The only activity allowed at the site is reclamation of the sand pit.”
Local officials, environmental groups and residents, including the Noyac Civic Council, have been demanding that the DEC shut down the facility, which has been the subject of zoning violations and litigation for years.
Owner John Tintle says there is a lot more sand available to take from the property and insists his own groundwater tests show pollution only at one location close to the adjacent Bridge Golf Club development. He applied earlier this year to renew his mining permit and separately said he would apply to win permission to dig deeper into the site than the current permit allows.
He confirmed Monday that he had received a notice dated September 11 from the DEC’s headquarters in Albany that the DEC intended to modify his mining permit. He said he would be asking for a hearing to defend the operation and press for a new permit.
Only a few weeks ago, at the last meeting of the Noyac Civic Council, Assemblyman Thiele, Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and County Legislator Bridgit Fleming — who again accompanied Mr. Thiele to the Civics meeting on Tuesday night — expressed exasperation with the regional DEC office in Stony Brook for seemingly ignoring the county’s damning groundwater report.
“The DEC’s position is inexplicable to a rational person,” Mr. Thiele said then, and Ms. Fleming expressed concern that the DEC was preparing to renew the mining permit.
Suffolk County Department of Health Services hydrologist Ronald Paulsen, an author of the groundwater report who also attended last month’s Civics meeting, said then he was puzzled “why there’s this non-acceptance” on the DEC’s part to acknowledge the county’s water quality report.
All three elected officials agreed there was no question the Sand Land mine was causing groundwater pollution and called on the Civic Council members to put pressure on the DEC to reject the renewal application by directly contacting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office.
“It’s the governor’s DEC,” Mr. Thiele said. “The way this administration works,” no state agency “does anything without consulting the governor’s office.”
The September 11 letter to Mr. Tintle was signed by Daniel Whitehead, director of the Division of Environmental Permits at DEC headquarters in Albany. Mr. Thiele said on Tuesday that decisions to modify a mining permit are made there, not in regional offices. Ms. Fleming said such decisions are rare.
A spokesperson for the Region I DEC office in Stony Brook commented, “As part of DEC’s ongoing oversight of this facility for compliance with all environmental laws and regulations, we secured a commitment from the facility to remove all solid waste from the site by October 31, 2018, and continue to monitor to facility to ensure it refuses to accept new deliveries of vegetative waste and are making progress to remove wastes from the site. However, based on 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. We are continuing to use all legal tools available to address concerns over the facility’s continued operation and will take all actions necessary to ensure the public and the environment are protected.”
In his letter to Mr. Tintle, Mr. Whitehead wrote that “Sand Land has only de minimus reserves of sand left for mining purposes, and areas where mining could occur are the subject of groundwater monitoring investigations. Therefore, in this Notice of Intent to Modify, the Department hereby approves the MLUP” — the Mined Land Use Plan, which Sand Land was required to submit to show how the site would be reclaimed whenever mining ceases — “and seeks modification of Sand Land’s Mine Permit to require the cessation of mining activities and the initiation of steps to reclaim the site.”
Mr. Whitehead acknowledged “multiple investigations” into groundwater pollution at and near the mine “principally in connection with potential contaminants from vegetative waste and land clearing debris.”
“While Sand Land could potentially remove the de minimus amounts of sand in the existing life of the mine,” Mr. Whitehead wrote, “that sand is located predominantly in the area of the mine formerly used for storing and processing of vegetative waste. Future site activities in and around those areas … have the potential to allow the release of contaminants in that area which could impact the local groundwater.
The DEC gave Mr. Tintle until September 26 to request a hearing.
In a press release dated September 16 announcing the DEC’s decision, Mr. Thiele said, “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. 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.”