The disturbing news, announced this week by two local environmental groups and the Noyac Civic Council, that contaminants have been found in the groundwater beneath the Sand Land sand mine and mulching operation in Noyac, is a game changer.
Tests conducted last year by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services have revealed elevated levels of nitrates — in at least one case double the state threshold for drinking water. Manganese, a heavy metal that occurs naturally but can be released through the chemical process of composting, was found in one test well at an astounding 26,000 parts per billion, or 87 times the acceptable level. Tests of surface water at the site also revealed high levels of arsenic and lead.
For years, the property’s owner has argued that the operation — which has morphed over the years from a simple sand mine to one where construction debris and vegetative waste also have been processed — was being unfairly targeted as a blight by neighbors who sought to cash in on growing property values in a part of town that not that long ago was an undesirable place to live.
While it is true the sand mine has been subjected to complaints from Johnny-come-latelys, who object to heavy dump trucks rumbling up and down Millstone Road to and from the site, there are many others who have been legitimately concerned about the impacts Sand Land’s operations could be having on the groundwater, which also serves as the South Fork’s sole source aquifer. Those concerns have taken on greater urgency as studies conducted at similar sites on Long Island by both the state and the county have found troubling levels of contamination.
Now, officials have what Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, correctly described as a smoking gun that points to Sand Land as the source of dangerous chemicals making their way more than 120 feet down through the soil into the drinking water.
The first order of business is for the county, which has been silent so far about its findings, to issue a full report on its test results, including an explanation for why it has taken so long to release them, and an outline of the steps it plans to take to protect the public’s health.
The next step is for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which has been considering Sand Land’s application to expand its sand mining permit for several years now, to deny that application. Southampton Town officials, who have been asked by an administrative judge to weigh in on the legality of the mining operation, need to take this opportunity to weigh in against the continued operation as well.
Finally, Sand Land’s owners, who have long profited by providing a valuable service to the builders who need their sand for construction projects to the landscapers who rely on it to accept their lawn clippings and brush, need to recognize that every good thing must come to an end.