The DEC denied a Noyac sand mining facility’s application for a 20-percent expansion after environmentalists spoke out. Photo by Mara Certic.
By Stephen J. Kotz
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, citing several major objections, last week rejected the expansion of the Sand Land mine and mulching facility in Noyac.
The operation, located on a 50-acre site off Millstone Road and Middle Line Highway and owned by Wainscott Sand and Gravel, has been the source of controversy for years, as the surrounding area has been transformed from woods to housing and the old Bridgehampton Race Circuit gave way to the exclusive Bridge
Last year, the company sought a permit to expand the area it is mining for sand and dig another 40 deeper. The property’s current elevation is about 175 feet above sea level, and it has already dug some 65 feet below grade.
Although the regional office of the DEC originally ruled the expansion would not have serious environmental repercussions, environmentalists, neighbors, and town and county officials begged to differ and eventually convinced the DEC to hold a hearing on the application last November.
Primarily, concerns were raised that pollutants from the mulching operation would leach into the groundwater below. The area is designated as an aquifer protection district.
“This is the way the system is supposed to work,” said Elena Loreto, the president of the Noyac Civic Council, which opposed the expansion, after announcing the decision at the group’s meeting this week. “Sand Land cannot expand. The DEC honored Governor Cuomo’s commitment to clean water, and this is why we have a DEC. It was a bipartisan effort to make sure that the DEC in Albany was notified because a lot of what we said to the Stony Brook regional office fell on deaf ears.”
Bob DeLuca, the president of the environmental organization the Group for the East End, concurred with Ms. Loreto. “I’m very happy that the Albany office had the foresight to take a closer look” at the application, he said. “If nothing else, it is a vindication of everyone who testified.”
Mr. DeLuca said it “defied logic” that the regional office focused solely on the application for the expansion of a mining permit and failed to take into consideration “the giant composting operation right on top of it.”
But John Tintle, the owner of Wainscott Sand and Gravel, who has steadfastly maintained that operation has not caused any pollution and is an important resource for the East End, said he was stunned by the DEC’s decision and suggested it implied political meddling.
“This was something that was basically approved and then was denied by the Number 2 at the DEC,” he said of the denial letter written by Marc S. Gerstman, the DEC’s executive deputy commissioner. “It’s not very often that the Number 2 comes down and weighs in on a mining permit decision.”
Mr. Tintle has charged that Robert Rubin, the owner of the neighboring Bridge golf club, who is required to provide extensive water monitoring on his own property, has stirred up opposition to Sand Land because it abuts a number of house lots that are part of his development.
He added that the reason the regional office did not take into consideration his mulching was that it has no jurisdiction over it. And he added, the DEC considers the construction debris recycling to be a minor use that requires a simple permit application.
Mr. Tintle has 30 days to appeal the decision, but said he did not want to discuss his plans.
Besides citing environmental concerns, including both the town’s and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services’ worries about groundwater pollution, Mr. Gerstman cited the death of a worker last year at another operation Mr. Tintle owns in East Quogue as well as other safety violations.
Although Mr. Tintle insisted that he has always remedied yet any violations he has been cited for, Mr. DeLuca said the DEC was wise in denying the application because if the operation were to pollute the groundwater, taxpayers would likely be on the hook for the for cleanup.
“We’re all better served by this approach,” he said. “If there is a way to protect the groundwater, we ought to do it now instead of waiting.”