Editorial: Reasonable Restriction

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Like a bolt of lightning from the clouds, word came down from Albany last week that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation intends to let the mining permit lapse for John Tintle’s Sand Land sand pit on Middle Line Highway in Noyac after it expires in November.

There’s very little sand left to mine, the DEC said in a letter to Mr. Tintle, and allowing any more digging there would disturb areas where constructive debris and vegetative waste used to be collected and processed — activities suspected of causing groundwater pollution found this year by county investigators in the aquifer below the 50-acre property. Digging into those areas could unleash even more iron, manganese, thallium, sodium, nitrate and ammonia into the aquifer, the DEC said.

Noyac area neighbors, and anyone worried about protecting the quality of the region’s groundwater supply, have worried about Sand Land’s impacts for years. But Mr. Tintle has hung tough. Committed to defending his right to operating a pre-existing, non-conforming business dating back to the 1960s, he has litigiously fought every attempt to restrict his sand mining and waste processing operations, recently suing Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman personally for denying his rights. How? By correctly telling the DEC in a letter this year that sand mining is not a permitted use anywhere in the town, although Mr. Tintle said he believes the DEC was asking for information specific to his Noyac spread.

Mr. Tintle, a well-spoken, personable businessman who is not a villainous or thug-like type of person, articulately explains his reasons for persisting: there is plenty more sand to dig from the site by going deeper without coming anywhere near groundwater; and his own studies show there is no groundwater pollution under the property except near The Bridge Golf Club community, probably from chemicals used on its golf course, he suspects, the developer of which Mr. Tintle sees as the great manipulator behind his opposition.

But the fact is the Sand Lane mine should go, a fate the town’s planners and politicians long believed to be a basic tenet of zoning law for all pre-existing, non-conforming uses. It’s a noxious use in a residential area that happens to be deep in the heart of the town’s Aquifer Protection Overlay District. Many decades ago, when no one cared about the scruffy woods and sandy hills that form the backbone of the South Fork, junk yards, landfills and sand mines there bothered no one. Today we know better. Those days are long gone.

As Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. told the Noyac Civic Council this week, “It’s not the end but I hope it’s the beginning of the end.” In a press release, he predicted “more administrative proceedings, as well as litigation from the polluter.” But after the dust settles, Sand Land will be gone, the site reclaimed with grass and trees — a process Mr. Tintle has already begun in earnest, while still hoping for the right to mine on the property. Maybe it will be wise to acquire it for preservation with Community Preservation Funds, Mr. Thiele said, adding that — no matter what — the pollution beneath will “have to be cleaned up” through the reclamation period.

As Legislator Bridget Fleming noted at this week’s Civic Council meeting, “community activism” and “tenacious advocacy” helped the DEC arrive at the correct decision. Activists, community groups and government leaders proved through this process they are willing to fight to protect our most vital resource: our groundwater. We hope that same kind of vigilance is applied to municipally-owned processing facilities and other potential threats to our ground and surface waters, including mandates on the use of fertilizers and pesticides that may keep our lawns a lovely shade of emerald green, but are also toxic to much of what we hold dear.

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