State Attorney General Drops Defense Of Sand Land Mining Permit

The Sand Land sand mine site in Noyac. FILE PHOTO

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. this week praised the decision of Attorney General Letitia James to abandon the legal defense of the Department of Environmental Conservation in the battle over that agency’s decision to extend and expand the sandmining permit at Sand Land in Noyac.

Last spring, a five-judge panel of the New York State Appellate Division ruled the DEC had violated state law when it issued the permit in 2019 after a five-year seesaw battle between the sand mine, which is operated by Wainscott Sand and Gravel, and Southampton Town, neighbors and environmental groups, who have long claimed the operation, which has included composting of vegetative waste and recycling of construction debris, was polluting the groundwater.

Despite the ruling against it, Mr. Thiele said the DEC has not adhered to the court’s ruling and acted as though it had been issued an automatic stay, although that was not the case. After a subsequent ruling in August in which the Appellate Division once again ruled against the DEC, the attorney general’s office threw in the towel.

“This is a major victory for water quality and the environment. I thank the attorney general for her courageous and thoughtful decision to put the weight of her office behind the public interest and not the polluter,” Mr. Thiele said. “I now call upon the state DEC to immediately close Sand Land. Without a valid permit, there is no legal basis for their continued operation in violation of the Appellate Division decision.”

Southampton Town Attorney James Burke agreed. “I think a legitimate question now is since the state is no longer contesting the revocation of the permit, does that mean the state should be moving to revoke the permit for sandmining at the site at this time?” he said in an email on Friday. “I will be discussing this question further with Dave Arnsten, the town’s outside counsel, next week and plan on reaching out to the NYSDEC and the AG office as well.”

The latest development does not mean the effort to close Sand Land is a done deal, Mr. Thiele added. “It’s not the end, but it’s the beginning of the end,” he said, noting that Sand Land still had the right to ask the state’s Court of Appeals to take on the case.

Mr. Burke said the company’s attorneys had already filed for an appeal. Brian Matthews, an East Hampton attorney who has represented Sand Land in the past, could not be reached for comment this week.

But Mr. Thiele said the Court of Appeals, like the U.S. Supreme Court, is highly selective in the cases it accepts. “I’m not saying the Court of Appeals won’t take the case,” he said, “but courts don’t take cases they don’t have to take unless they have something to say.”

Mr. Thiele said in issuing its ruling last spring, the Appellate Division panel upheld the statute stating the DEC did not have the authority to issue mining permits in towns whose zoning codes prohibit the activity, as Southampton’s does. The state law only applies to counties with populations of more than 1 million people and which draw their water from a sole-source aquifer, which effectively limits its jurisdiction to Long Island.

“The statute is clear. The Appellate Division’s ruling is clear,” Mr. Thiele said. “If you don’t like what the statute says, take it up with the State Legislature.”