(July 2018… Sag Harbor, New York) On Friday, July 13 at 10 a.m., Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Group for the East End, Noyac Civil Council, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni, and other environmentalists and community leaders gathered at the Old Noyac Schoolhouse to respond to tainted water samples at the controversial Sand Land property, which is operated by Wainscott Sand and Gravel, and discuss a unified action plan. The final report confirms significant contamination of the aquifer.
Key Action Plan Steps:
- The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) should deny the facilities upcoming mining permit renewal
- The NYSDEC should immediately deny the facility’s proposed expansion plans for the mine
- All vegetative waste and related processing operations should be removed from the site.
- Governor Cuomo must be engaged to make sure the DEC does its job, closes this facility and protects our water.
- The Town should aggressively enforce its own local regulations to keep waste materials of any type off the site.
For nearly a decade, concerned citizens, environmentalists, and elected officials have fought for an investigation into the possible groundwater contamination associated with the mining, demolition debris and waste processing operations at the pre-existing, nonconforming Sand Land mine located off Millstone Road. After securing a court order, a County investigation of the facility finally began in late 2017.
Last week, the Suffolk County Health Department released a final assessment of its 2017 test-well sampling program and confirmed the mine and its operations had significantly contaminated the area’s underlying groundwater aquifer. The study identified contamination by toxic heavy metals, nitrates and even radioactivity at levels well above drinking water standards. The contamination was found to have penetrated deeply into the area’s groundwater aquifer, posing a threat both to private drinking water wells near the facility as well as the region’s long-term drinking water supply.
President of Noyac Civil Council, Elena Loretto, introduced the speakers, many of which have been working diligently since the beginning to advocate for this investigation. “We would like to see our elected officials act immediately,” she said. “If we lost the entire aquifer, we would have to leave. We could not water our plants, could not give water to our pets, we could not drink it. We’re desperate, anxious, and exasperated. We cannot wait any longer.”
Group for the East End president Bob DeLuca said, “What the County expected to find, they found. They concluded the contamination has moved deep into the aquifer and it is moving west, northwest. It was a serious enough problem to start testing wells and this is becoming an ongoing issue. The fundamental problem is you have the wrong use in the wrong place. The contamination demonstrates why and evidence now support this. Enough is enough.”
“We have been working on this report for many years,” said New York State Legislator Bridget Fleming. “There is no disputing the conclusions in this report that the ongoing activities at this site are having a negative impact on the groundwater. Folks need to be reassured their drinking water supply is safe. It’s the only supply we have and its right below our feet.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the Town is deeply committed to protecting the aquifer. “Sadly, the resource has been compromised,” he said. “There is nothing to celebrate in this report. This is bad news that our aquifer has been contaminated. All the work we have been doing to protect critical resources has been lost in some respects.”
“Water is the thing that unifies us as a people, in the past and in the future,” said Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni. “My view is there are few things more important than the protection of our aquifer.”
New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele shared the iron levels found in test wells are 200 times greater than the drinking water standard and manganese are 100 times greater than the drinking water standard. “We don’t see numbers like this,” he said. “It’s not just the intensity and concentration, it’s also the depth of the ground water. The South Fork is the deepest part of the aquifer and we should be protecting it the most. Public health is at risk. We know what the problem is and we know what the solution is: shut it down.”
Executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment Adrienne Esposito said it is time to call on New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to shut down the sand mine and clean it up. “The bottom line is the facts are in, they are conclusive, and Sand Land is polluting and contaminating our sole source of drinking water. We cannot tolerate it and the only thing we accept as a community is shutting it down.”
History of Efforts to Investigate Sand Land
Despite its longstanding participation in the groundwater testing that has confirmed contaminants from these industrial processing operations, NYSDEC has consistently failed to address, or even acknowledge, these groundwater risks even when given the opportunity through the review of related permits, such as those related to sand mining operations where such vegetative waste processing facilities have become common. In its 2013 review of Sand Land’s mining permit renewal, a permit that was granted, NYSDEC ignored substantive groundwater contamination concerns raised by the Town of Southampton, Suffolk County Health Department, recognized environmental organizations and local civic organizations.
In response to public and local government outrage over the State’s failure to fully consider and potentially address likely vegetative waste contamination during its review of the Sand Land mine permit, the Suffolk County Legislature eventually passed legislation directing SCDHS to conduct groundwater testing at the Sand Land site.
Over the course of the next two years, the owners of the mine fought to keep SCDHS from installing the mandated well resulting in a legal battle that went on until August of 2017, when Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Joseph Santorelli strongly affirmed the County’s right to test the property for contamination, and ordered that the investigation proceed. SCDHS conducted well installation and testing in October and November of 2017, and the results of the testing became available in early 2018.