By Stephen J. Kotz
With concerns over groundwater protection becoming a hot-button issue across the region, Bob DeLuca, the president of the Group for the East End, on Tuesday urged members of the Noyac Civic Council to act locally—specifically about Sand Land, a sand mine and mulching operation run by Wainscott Sand and Gravel in Noyac.
Sand Land, which occupies a 50-plus acre site on Middle Line Highway off Millstone Road, adjacent to the exclusive Bridge golf club, has been targeted in recent years as a nuisance by neighbors, including Bob Rubin, the owner of the golf course, who have taken it to court in an effort to shut it down.
Mr. DeLuca stressed to the gathering of about 20 people at the Old Noyac Schoolhouse that he was not accusing Sand Land of polluting the groundwater, but he said similar operations have posed problems elsewhere on Long Island, most recently in Yaphank just last summer, and that it was essential neighbors remain vigilant.
Mr. DeLuca was joined Tuesday by Greg Stanley, the Bridge’s course superintendent, and Brian Sexton, an attorney who has worked with Mr. Rubin, the course’s owner, and neighbors of Sand Land in the legal fight against it.
Reached on Wednesday, John Tintle, the owner of Sand Land, said Mr. DeLuca’s appearance before the Civic Council was part of a broader effort, orchestrated by Mr. Rubin, to drive him out of business.
“Bob DeLuca has been hired by Bob Rubin in an effort to devalue my property,” he said. “This is a disinformation campaign, and I find it really disgusting that that the Group, which is supposed to be advocating for the environment is now advocating for a golf course—one it once fought tooth and nail against.”
Mr. DeLuca acknowledged the irony of being on the same side as Mr. Rubin, saying that he believed that Mr. Rubin had embraced environmental protection in part because of his group’s advocacy during the Bridge’s lengthy, and often stormy, approval practice.
“We’re on the side of the groundwater, whether it be at the Bridge or Sand Land,” he said of the Group’s efforts.
On Tuesday night, Mr. DeLuca referred to the Long Island Compost/Great Gardens facility on Horseblock Road in Yaphank, where last summer the state Department of Environmental Conservation found extremely elevated levels of manganese and contaminants in the groundwater after test wells were drilled at locations around the site.
Mr. DeLuca said that Southampton Town officials and the Suffolk County Health department had both requested last year that test wells be drilled on or around the Sand Land site and that the DEC consider those requests before issuing the facility another five-year permit to continue its operations.
“But the permit went out the door with none of this addressed,” he said, adding that he found it strange that the DEC had ignored both the town and the health department’s concerns. “How did you make this determination?” he said. “We didn’t get any explanation.”
Mr. DeLuca said that “the DEC has lots of problems,” largely with staffing shortages, which make it difficult for it to keep up with its workload. “They are not coming to help us any time soon, I fear,” he said.
He suggested that members of the Civic Council ask the town board to consider legislation to amortize sand mine and mulch operations much as it did with night clubs under the administration of Supervisor Patrick Heaney or, seek site-plan review if any efforts are made to expand operations at the site.
Mr. Tintle said he was called last summer by the Suffolk County health department, which requested to test the drinking water at his site. When he asked why, he said he was told the health department was looking into requests that public water be extended to the area. Mr. Tintle said when his company received the results of the county’s tests, “our water was as clean as can be.”
The fight against Sand Land has been going on for years. In 2012, the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals ruled that Sand Land’s mulching operation was not a part of its pre-existing use and revoked a certificate of occupancy it had received the year before. The company sued, and earlier this year, a state Supreme Court judge ruled in Sand Land’s favor, allowing it to continue its operations and reinstating the certificate of occupancy.
On Tuesday, Mr. Stanley, the golf course superintendent, said there was a double standard in how the town forced the Bridge to protect the groundwater and its lack of oversight over Sand Land. “The environmental disparity that is going on and our golf course and over there is immense,” Mr. Stanley said. “We’ve pulled thousands of water samples. We take our responsibility very seriously.”
Mr. Stanley said the Bridge is an Audubon Society certified bird sanctuary. “There’s an osprey nest, hundreds of bluebirds, foxes. It’s a great story when you think about what used to happen there,” he said, referring to the property’s past as the Bridgehampton Race Circuit.
“We would encourage you folks to talk to the town to see if we can begin to talk about this property,” he added. “When you first see it, it’s shocking.”
But Mr. Tintle said when the Bridge was developed, many of the housing lots that went with the development were laid out bordering his sand pit because it was the highest elevation and had the best views. “They wanted the lots there,” he said. “And now for the last eight years, Mr. Rubin has been trying to run me out of business.”
On Tuesday, Mr. DeLuca said that much of Noyac sits atop a prime aquifer that the state has designated as a special groundwater protection area. Sand Land, he said, sits in a “crater,” carved out of the moraine right above that aquifer. “What goes on at that facility is of more interest to us because of the water quality for the people around it.”
Just as environmentalists focused on landfills 30 years ago, their attention has now turned to sand mines and mulching operations because “these are known types of uses” where problems can arise, he said.
Mr. DeLuca said that “there is a lot of speculation about how much sand is coming out there,” adding that by now there must be a minimal amount left.
A member of the audience wanted to know how much money could be made in mulch, and Mr. Sexton replied that there were 350 trucks coming to the site a day, which are charged to dump material and charged to pick up material.
Mr. DeLuca urged the council to “ask the town if they can’t find a way onto this property to start doing some analysis” much as it was able to work with the Bridge “to put in what is probably the most comprehensive water testing equipment in town.”
Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said, “I think it bears noting that a lot [of the safeguards at the Bridge] came out of the advocacy of this group and the Noyac CAC.”
“The town board does pay attention, she added. “This is a very tough nut. We are in litigation right now so I can’t really talk about it.”