In the wake of the discovery that elevated levels of contaminants have been found in both the surface water and groundwater at the Sand Land sand mine and mulching operation in Noyac, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services is expanding its testing of private wells in the area.
In a letter to Elena Loreto, the president of the Noyac Civic Council, which has long opposed activities at the Millstone Road site, Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James L. Tomarken said the county, which has tested a number of private wells near the site in the past, was in the process of “reevaluating the private well survey area” with the results of the latest Sand Land water tests in mind.
“If you get a letter, please respond. I will try to get a list of those who will be notified and will follow up, but for your own benefit and that of your neighbors, please respond,” Ms. Loreto told members of the civic council who gathered on Tuesday to discuss the situation. “It’s perfectly free. It won’t hurt you. But not doing it may hurt you.”
The agreement to expand the testing of private wells follows the release two weeks ago by the civic council and two environmental advocacy groups of the results of county water tests that were conducted at the Sand Land site under court order last October. The Group for the East End and the Citizens Campaign for the Environment filed Freedom of Information Law requests to obtain the raw data from those tests, which the county health department is continuing to analyze.
According to Dr. Stuart Cohen of Environmental and Turf Services, Inc., a consulting firm from Wheaton, Maryland, the initial data from county’s test wells showed a spike in the groundwater of the heavy metal manganese at 87 times the state threshold of 300 parts per billion as well as elevated levels of cobalt — as high as 107 parts per billion. The tests also revealed elevated nitrate levels, in one instance nearly double the state standard of 10 parts per million.
Testing of pools of standing water at the site also found elevated levels of lead, arsenic and manganese, according to Dr. Cohen’s findings. Lead was measured as high as 73.5 parts per billion, where the state threshold is 25 parts per billion; arsenic levels as high as 85 parts per billion, where the standard is also 25 parts; and manganese was found at levels of 773 parts per billion, where the threshold is 300 parts.
The Sand Land site is operated by Wainscott Sand and Gravel. It is currently seeking to expand state sand mining permit, which expires later this year. On Tuesday, Ms. Loreto, Ms. Esposito and Mr. DeLuca urged residents to turn up the heat on elected officials to have that permit denied and the operation at the site shut down and remediated.
“Sand Land is out of sand. They’ve admitted that,” said Ms. Esposito, adding that was the reason the company was seeking to expand its permit. “We have a sand mine without sand that is polluting the groundwater because of other activities they are engaged in.”
She urged residents to contact Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming to ask them to call for Sand Land’s closure.
But Ms. Esposito said the focus should be on getting Southampton Town to take a more proactive role. “I’m going to be very candid. The town needs to be stronger about this,” she said. “The town has a very clear role to play here, and frankly, I feel they are playing both sides.”
Ms. Loreto urged council members to contact their officials, starting with Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.
In January, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s chief administrative law judge, James T. McClymonds, asked Mr. Schneiderman to weigh in on whether Sand Land’s request to expand its operation, which he characterized as a new permit, not a simple extension, was in fact legal in the town.
Town officials have said the existing land mine is, in fact, a legal use that preexists current zoning, but they have stressed any expansion would not be legal, but Ms. Loreto expressed frustration that Mr. Schneiderman had yet to write the letter Judge McClymonds requested.
“I don’t understand what the delay is,” she said. “So please call Mr. Schneiderman and tell him to please write the letter that mining is not allowed in Southampton.”
On Tuesday, James Burke, the town attorney, said via email the town has not yet sent the letter for two reasons. First, he said, Sand Land’s attorney had filed a motion to reargue the case and had also asked the judge to direct the DEC itself to request the letter from the town. Outside attorneys the town has hired to consult with its staff on the case have also requested the town hold off until it receives clarification from the judge.
On Wednesday, Mr. Thiele announced the Assembly had passed a measure he sponsored by a 138-1 vote that gives local governments like the town authority to enact local laws requiring groundwater monitoring at mines. The bill now goes to the State Senate.