With the safety of groundwater a major concern in Southampton, the Town Board will move forward with a proposal to require that all sand mines in town set up groundwater monitoring systems to provide early warnings of, or head off, potential contamination.
The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing at 1 p.m. on February 9.
“Our drinking water is paramount. We must monitor it,” said Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni, who is sponsoring the measure. Pointing to Long Island’s reliance on a sole source aquifer, he added, “It’s important to note that on Long Island there is no viable alternative for drinking water.”
Under the proposal, sand mines — there are currently six in the town — would have to submit professionally devised groundwater monitoring programs that would include detailed surveys and topographical maps of the site and sink at least three test wells from which samples would be drawn at least twice a year.
If contamination is found, the town would then report it to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to investigate and, if necessary, order remediation.
The state gave local governments on Long Island permission to require the testing through enabling legislation passed in 2018 that was sponsored by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.
In 2017, before such legislation existed, Suffolk County sued Sand Land, a sand mine and vegetative waste recycling facility in Noyac, in order to install test wells. The county concluded that the results from those tests showed the site was contaminated with metals like manganese and iron as well as chemicals, but those findings were challenged by the company, which pointed to separate conclusions provided by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
But Mr. Schiavoni stressed that the town was not moving forward with only Sand Land in mind, saying that any mine could conceivably pollute the groundwater.
“It’s good the town is taking some ownership of the issue,” said Bob DeLuca, the president of the environmental advocate the Group for the East End. “It is a significant step forward for the town to recognize the problem and do what it can to protect public health.”
He added that the measure would give the town “more information, and I’d say more control, over the environmental effects of mining. And this is the kind of thing we have to do now that we understand the aquifer system.”
Assemblyman Thiele said it was important that the town take advantage of the opportunity to monitor sand mines. “The county health department has documented groundwater contamination from sand mining operations,” he said. “In addition, a Suffolk grand jury has found that existing mining regulations are too lax to protect our drinking water.”
He lamented that Governor Andrew Cuomo in December vetoed a law that received overwhelming support in both the Assembly and Senate that would have given local governments joint jurisdiction with the DEC over mining operations.
“I will continue to pursue mining legislation to protect our drinking water,” he said. “In the meantime, the establishment of groundwater monitoring around mining operations by our towns is the bare minimum that should be done to protect the public.”