The Environmental Protection Agency will not be investigating the Sand Land mine in Noyac — and it will not be designated as a Superfund site.
In a letter to U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin dated January 30, regional administrator Peter Lopez said the EPA was satisfied with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation determination that elevated concentrations of iron and manganese found in water samples taken at the facility were “naturally occurring and do not present a risk.”
In addition to reviewing information supplied by the congressman’s staff, Mr. Lopez said the EPA’s regional Superfund management team reached out to DEC counterparts “to discuss, in detail, additional information about the groundwater sampling activities at the Sand Land facility and the Sand Land mining permit.”
The administrator echoed complaints that Sand Land representatives — specifically, the company’s attorney, Brian Matthews — had registered regarding groundwater sampling in 2018 that showed high levels of contamination.
A report from the Suffolk County Department of Health characterized the mine as the source of contamination of the aquifer. When the Health Department report was released, and often since then, Mr. Matthews criticized its findings, noting that the DEC, too, had expressed concerns about the county’s water sampling methods, “which would affect the quality of data,” Mr. Lopez wrote.
Sand Land has installed its own permanent wells for sampling water, and the company and DEC officials have conducted tests. Groundwater sampling showed elevated concentrations of iron, manganese and a one-time elevated concentration of arsenic.
“We are satisfied with the NYSDEC’s conclusion that the elevated concentrations of iron and manganese are naturally occurring and do not present a risk,” Mr. Lopez wrote.
He said the one-time arsenic reading “may be an anomaly,” and that the DEC will continue monitoring.
“Furthermore,” wrote Mr. Lopez, “the groundwater flow at and in the vicinity of the Sand Land facility is extremely complex, with a groundwater divide on the property, so it is difficult to say whether the elevated concentrations of iron, manganese and arsenic originate at Sand Land or from an area off of the facility property.”
Mr. Lopez said his agency believes the DEC’s plan to continue overseeing Sand Land’s groundwater monitoring efforts “is the appropriate path forward.”
On February 26, Mr. Matthews, of the East Hampton firm Matthews, Kirst & Cooley, PLLC, distributed a statement on behalf of Sand Land, along with the letter.
For over a decade, opponents of the mine “have engaged in a campaign to diminish a family business that has played a pivotal role in the local economy,” the statement reads. “This unrelenting campaign has been predicated in large part upon their repeated and false claims that Sand Land has negatively impacted the aquifer.”
The statement characterizes a request by the Noyac Civic Council asking Mr. Zeldin to intercede and direct the EPA to designate the mine a Superfund site as the “latest desperate attempt to shutter Sand Land’s business.”
This is not the first time opponents have invoked the “Superfund” name, the statement continues. “They have repeatedly ignored the fact that the EPA and the NYSDEC had already assessed the property for this very purpose,” the statement reads, “and determined that there was no evidence of hazardous waste disposal, no need for any remediation, and no need to list this property as a ‘Superfund’ site.
“Thankfully, the EPA has refused to join their campaign and rejected their baseless arguments that the NYSDEC has acted improperly,” the statement reads. Opponents have, the statement concludes, consistently failed to show that Sand Land has had any negative impact on the aquifer.
The Group for the East End has played a lead role in the opposition and is currently among petitioners suing to have the mine’s permits overturned.
Its president, Bob DeLuca, said of the letter last week, “It appears that the EPA — an agency now run by a coal lobbyist — did a phone call review of a serious groundwater contamination issue already confirmed by the objective monitoring and analysis of the Suffolk County Health Department.”
He added, “In light of the fact that the NYSDEC is being sued on multiple fronts, including by the Town of Southampton, for failing to do its job, it’s little surprise that the EPA’s ‘review’ would end up reflecting DEC’s altered version of reality. Might have been nice and slightly more credible if they had contacted the Suffolk County Health Department and independently reviewed the county’s research, data and findings.”
“I am so disappointed that the EPA did not do their own independent testing. Instead, the EPA swallowed the inaccurate garbage story that the DEC has been peddling,” said Elena Loreto, president of the Noyac Civic Council. “The DEC is not looking out for our water, and that is why the DEC is being sued by Southampton Town, Assemblyman [Fred W.] Thiele Jr., Suffolk County, Group for the East End, the Citizens’ Campaign For the Environment, the Noyac Civic Council, the Southampton Town Civics and CACs, and the neighbors of the Sand Land mine.”
“Elevating this situation to the EPA was a part of everyone’s continued efforts to run the gamut on every option,” Mr. Zeldin said in a statement on February 28. “While the EPA doesn’t consider Sand Land a Superfund site, we will continue to utilize every option as town officials and local residents await a decision in their ongoing legal battle.”