The state Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating a longtime Hamptons sand and gravel mine, DEC officials said, after opponents of the operation accused it of illegally using mulch to fill in a deep pit.
The 50-acre operation, tucked into the woods of Southampton Town and known as Sand Land, has operated since the 1950s. But neighbors of Wainscott Sand & Gravel Corp., including members of an exclusive golf club that costs $850,000 to join, say the pit's mulching operations are not legally permitted and add that the noise and stench make it a nuisance.
The mulch poses an environmental hazard to the groundwater, according to letter sent last week to the DEC by the Bridge Golf Club attorney Brian Sexton and Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive director Adrienne Esposito. They cited a study released by the agency last month that linked a Yaphank composting and mulching operation to groundwater contamination.
Last week, from the vantage of the golf course that overlooks the sand pit, two bulldozers were seen digging into an on-site hillside and loading up trucks that dumped the soil into a pit.
Sexton said that the week before he observed trucks and bulldozers at the site taking piles of mulch and dumping them into the pit. Private investigators hired by the golf club videotaped and photographed similar operations earlier this month, golf club officials said.
Sand Land owner John Tintle and his attorney, David Eagan of East Hampton, didn't respond to requests for comment.
Esposito said the mulch presents dangers to the aquifer.
The pit goes 160 feet down "and sits directly atop the most sensitive recharge zone of the aquifer protection district," Esposito and Sexton wrote in a letter to the DEC. The Yaphank groundwater report linked burying mulch and compost to heavy metal contamination and elevated levels of radionuclides.
Esposito and Sexton called for the state and Southampton to stop the burying of mulch.
The state has been to the site multiple times over the past year, DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo said in a statement. "The site operations are currently under investigation," she wrote adding the DEC could not comment further because of the ongoing investigation.
At Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals hearings prompted by disputes with neighbors last year, sand mine representatives presented a half-dozen statements from former workers who said the site has changed little over the decades.
One former worker, Theodore Baranowksi, said when he worked there in the early 1950s the site was used not only to mine sand but also to "receive and burn leaves and other vegetation and stockpile junk cars, tires and other metals."
The Southampton ZBA ruled in 2012 that Sand Land had a pre-existing right to mine, store and sell sand there. It could also receive trees, brush, stumps and leaves.
But, the ZBA ruled, it could not process topsoil or mulch.
Sand Land has appealed that ruling. Southampton spokeswoman Jennifer Garvey said the town expects a State Supreme Court ruling in the next few weeks.