Environmentalists and government leaders gathered with concerned citizens in Noyac on Friday and in a collective voice called for the closure of Sand Land, a sand mine and vegetative waste processing facility on Middle Line Highway that county health department officials say is responsible for groundwater contamination of the aquifer under the site.
A Suffolk County Health Department report issued on June 29, based on an investigation of potential impacts to ground water at Wainscott Sand & Gravel, more commonly referred to as Sand Land, found iron and manganese levels that “significantly exceed drinking water and groundwater standards in multiple wells. Manganese exceeded the standards by almost 100 times and iron by over 200 times.” The department also found thallium, sodium, nitrate, ammonia, and gross alpha in levels that exceed standards for drinking water and groundwater in 21 test wells installed at the 50-acre site.
“We are really, the word is desperate, the word is anxious, the word is exacerbated,” said Noyac Civic Council President Elena Loreto in the Old Noyac Schoolhouse at a meeting convened by the civic council and Group for the East End on July 13. “We cannot wait any longer. Whether it is using [Community Preservation Funds] to buy the site — whatever we have to do we cannot allow this contamination to occur right here in our backyard.”
“In some ways, if you think about it, sand mines are like landfills, which we got rid of years ago because they create a conduit for pollutants and contaminants to go directly down into the water supply,” said Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End. Mr. DeLuca said vegetative waste processing to make mulch “liberates metals and other contaminants” allowing them to seep deep into the soil, eventually infiltrating the aquifer.
As a member of the Suffolk County Legislator, Jay Schneiderman — now Southampton Town supervisor — passed a bill mandating the health department begin groundwater testing on the Sand Land property. The company fought allowing health department officials on the property in court, but lost that battle. Testing began in 2017.
“What the county expected to find there, sadly, they found,” said Mr. DeLuca.
“This is sad,” said Mr. Schneiderman at the meeting, noting millions of dollars have been spent trying to protect groundwater and drinking water derived from the region’s sole source aquifer. “There is nothing to celebrate here in this report. This is bad news that our aquifer has been compromised by radionuclides, manganese, other metals, nitrogen. All the work we have been doing to protect our critical resources is lost in many respects. This is a real problem.”
Mr. Schneiderman said the mine is permitted only to reclaim the site to a natural state, and that code enforcement has been actively citing anyone going to the site for processing of yard waste or concrete. The mine’s five-year permit with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation expires in November. The mine’s owners are seeking a new five-year permit that would allow operators to mine deeper into the property. On Friday, Mr. Schneiderman said he would send a letter to the DEC informing the agency mines are not legal in the Town of Southampton.
“This permit needs to be denied by the DEC and the idea this mine could be expanded is out of the question,” said New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. “You don’t expand something that is polluting the environment. The DEC should be rejecting out of hand the permit for expansion. Shut it down.”
Mr. Thiele also encouraged the town to continue to fight the mine through its own court, and said construction debris and vegetative waste should immediately be removed from the property.
“It’s not just the intensity or the concentration of these chemicals and the number of them, it is also the depth in the groundwater table they are finding them in,” said Mr. Thiele, noting contaminants are being detected 137 to 154 feet below the surface. “This is the deepest part of the aquifer, the South Fork moraine, the deepest part of the aquifer. This is the area of the aquifer we are supposed to be protecting the most.”
While the chemicals have not been detected in private water, elected officials, including Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming and civic leaders such as Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said that was because contamination had sunk deep into the aquifer, but would rise over time. Mitigating future contamination, said Ms. Esposito, is the goal in calling for the closure of the mine.
Sand Land’s attorney, Brian Matthews of Matthews, Kirst & Cooley PLLC in East Hampton, released a statement on Tuesday. He said the company was “thoroughly reviewing the report prepared by the SCDHS.”
“However, the review conducted to date reveals a number of internal inconsistencies and other critical findings that belie the County’s conclusion that the use of the site has adversely impacted the groundwater, and frankly shows that the report’s conclusion was predetermined, at best,” continues Mr. Matthews. “Contrary to the report’s conclusion, the testing conducted by Sand Land’s licensed experts reveals that the directional flow of the groundwater is different than what the County claims, and therefore confirms that any elevated levels found through the County’s testing are not related to any activities at the site.”
Mr. Matthews said there is no attempt by the county to explain why private wells downgradient from the site “met all drinking water standards” and have not been impacted by water quality issues common with vegetative organic waste material. Mr. Matthews added that both Sand Land’s experts and the county had confirmed groundwater directly below the area where mulch and compost was historically stored did not exceed standards for iron or manganese.
“Sand Land has repeatedly stated that it supports the protection of water quality and has made clear that no hazardous materials are dumped on site,” said Mr. Matthews. “In light of this fact, Sand Land finds the statements being made by local officials accusing Sand Land of contaminating the groundwater to be particularly troubling. Specifically, while local officials allege that VOWM [vegetative waste organic material] contaminates the groundwater, none of these local officials, including State Assemblymen Thiele and Legislator Fleming, each of whom have sat on the Southampton Town Board, have expressed the slightest concern about the three facilities operated by the Town of Southampton itself — in North Sea, Hampton Bays, and Westhampton — where the town itself accepts/processes/stores/distributes VOWM.”
Mr. Matthews also alleges the town has not tested groundwater under its own facilities and questions why that is the case if government officials are concerned about vegetative organic waste material causing contamination.
Both Mr. Thiele and Ms. Esposito, reacting to similar statements made to other media outlets, said they believed the county report was clear.
“You can come to no conclusion from this study other than Sand Land is directly responsible for this contamination,” said Mr. Thiele. “Nobody else, no neighbors, no uses — Sand Land.”