By Stephen J. Kotz
To hear John Tintle tell it, the neighbors of his Sand Land mine, composting and recycling facility in Noyac simply want to make his business go away to increase their own property values.
“They don’t like it that we’re here,” he said on Friday, while giving a tour of the deep pit, where grinding machines and screeners process mountains of sand and gravel for the manufacture of the concrete used for roads and foundations; stumps and branches for compost and top soil used in landscaping; and construction debris for things like driveway bases. “Yet they all need what we sell.”
Those neighbors, and many other residents of Sag Harbor, Noyac, and Bridgehampton, as well as elected officials and environmentalists turned out last week in a bid to have the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation deny Sand Land’s request for an expansion of its mining permit—or at the very least require that an environmental impact statement be done to protect the groundwater and reduce the potential for other environmental harm at the site. That hearing is covered separately in this issue.
But Bob DeLuca, the president of the Group for the East End, who was among those who is calling for a DEIS, said “the idea you would not do a comprehensive environmental review would be laughable if it were not so disconcerting.” He criticized the DEC for not planning to hold a hearing on the matter until the public pressured it to do so.
He pointed out that sand mining only makes up a portion of the activity at the site—although Mr. Tintle says it accounts for about two-thirds of his business—and said environmentalists are more concerned about mulching, composting and construction debris recycling.
Sand Land sits atop the aquifer and chief among the concerns of Mr. DeLuca and other environmentalists is the potential for groundwater pollution. He cites a DEC investigation of the Long Island Composting site on Horseblock Road in Yaphank, released in 2013, which showed sharply higher levels of manganese emanating from the site. As a result, Long Island Composting has agreed to build an indoor composting operation on a concrete pad with runoff contained on site.
“It’s kind of crazy to think of all the work we did to get rid of the landfills” in New York State, he said. “And then to allow an industrial waste site to continue operating” with no additional oversight.
“In my mind, projects like this over time should probably be amortized,” Mr. DeLuca said. “These places are grenades waiting to explode.”
The trouble for Sand Land—and Wainscott Sand and Gravel, which operates the 50-acre site off Millstone Road and Middle Line Highway, in the shadow of the exclusive Bridge golf club—began in 2005. A group of three neighbors, with financial backing from Robert Rubin, the golf club’s owner, sued. They sought to have the site declared a nuisance and shut down because of, among other things, its odor, noise and the hundreds of large dump trucks that rumble onto and off the site each day. The opposition came, Mr. Tintle said, despite the fact that the mine has been there for more than 50 years—and provided much of the sand used for fill when the World’s Fair was held at Flushing Meadows, Queens, in 1964—and was opened when the land was zoned for industrial uses and the nearest house was a quarter mile away.
The result of that suit was a protracted battle between Mr. Tintle and Southampton Town. In 2011, the town’s chief building inspector, Michael J. Benincasa, issued a certificate of occupancy that recognized that the mine was operating before 1972 when the town changed the zoning from industrial to residential. It also legalized the compost and mulch processing at the site. The neighbors, who had sued, Margo Gilman, Joseph Phair, and Amelia Doggwiler (who replaced Robert Flood, an original petitioner, after he sold his house), appealed the issuance of that C.O. to the town Zoning Board of Appeals.
The Z.B.A., in turn, “wanted to make everyone happy,” according to Mr. Tintle. “They wanted to split the baby in half.” In 2012, the ZBA ruled that while the sand mine was legal, the other activities were not, and ordered them shut down. Mr. Tintle sued, and last February, New York State Supreme Court Justice W. Gerard Asher, ruled in his companies’ favor, ordering the C.O. to be reinstated in its entirety.
In his ruling, Justice Asher gave considerable weight to the testimony of people like Bill Masterson, the former Southampton Town highway superintendent, and Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, who was formerly the town’s director of sanitation. In affidavits, they and others who worked at the site or made deliveries, described an ongoing operation that had been in place for decades.
Mr. Tintle said in 2013, the Suffolk County Department of Health Service asked to test the water from wells used to supply both his office at the Sand Land site and in an irrigation system that is run during the dry summer months to keep dust down. The tests have shown no sign of any contamination, he said.
“If the DEC wants me to put in test wells, I will, but I’ll be the only [sand mine] place on Long Island to have them,” he said.
Mr. Tintle says much of the public opposition to his plans have been stirred up by Mr. Rubin. House lots approved as part of the Bridge development back up to Sand Land, and Mr. Tintle showed a reporter photographs of surveillance cameras he says are on the Bridge property overlooking his mine. “I’m under a microscope here,” he said.
He also charges that Mr. Rubin has enlisted the Group for the East End to fight the battle for him. Mr. DeLuca dismisses those claims, while acknowledging that Mr. Rubin is a contributor to the Group and has attended its annual benefits.
“We made Bob Rubin’s life very difficult for three years” during the review of his golf course, Mr. DeLuca said, with the result that he now spends an estimated $200,000 to 300,000 annually to monitor the groundwater. “The bottom line is our position is consistent, whether it’s been Bob Rubin’s or this project,” Mr. DeLuca said.
“He’s in a position where he feels this is personal,” Mr. DeLuca added. “But it’s not like somebody went to the phone book, found this guy and decided to pick on him.”