A state Supreme Court judge has temporarily blocked a controversial Noyac sand mine from digging beyond its existing borders, finding that it probably constitutes an expansion and could cause additional groundwater contamination.
The preliminary injunction issued May 31 prevents the Sand Land mine from expanding from 31.5 acres to 34.5 acres horizontally into an area known as the "Stump Dump" and digging 40 feet deeper, as allowed by a state Department of Conservation agreement announced in March. That agreement would allow Sand Land to operate for another eight years.
Environmentalists, town and state elected officials had sued the sand mining operation and state Department of Enviornmental Conservation in April.
"Without reaching a conclusion that petitioners will prevail on their claims, the Court finds that petitioners have submitted sufficient evidence demonstrating a likelihood of success on the merits of their challenge to the settlement agreement and resulting renewal as an unlawful expansion of the mined area …," according to the ruling from acting Supreme Court Justice James Ferreira in Albany.
The court denied another preliminary injunction sought by opponents to stop the DEC from processing the permit application.
Opponents said the ruling was a temporary win in the ongoing legal fight.
"This is a substantial interim victory," said Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, an environmental group that is one of the groups suing to stop the agreement.
Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said, "This is a major victory for the environment, our drinking water, and the community at large."
He said in a statement the state DEC "attempted to deceive the public and elected officials by characterizing the settlement as closing the mine. They never mentioned the 3-acre horizontal expansion and attempted to characterize it as a ministerial change."
DEC officials have said the agreement prohibits the company from accepting new vegetative waste at the site, institutes a groundwater monitoring program, and provides additional financial security to ensure the mine is reclaimed within a decade.
Sean Mahar, chief of staff of the DEC, said in a statement Monday, "While DEC cannot comment on pending litigation, our comprehensive settlement has put this facility on the path to closure and secured the most stringent and aggressive oversight and protection of water quality over any facility of its kind in New York State."
Brian Matthews, East Hampton attorney for mine owners Sand Land Corporation and Wainscott Sand and Gravel Corp., did not return a request for comment on Monday.
The DEC has said that the agreement prevents horizontal expansion of the mine, arguing the change from 31.5 acres to 34.5 acres was intended to correct a mistake in calculating the size of the mine. But the judge's ruling noted that as recently as 2014, Sand Land had sought to modify its mining permits to add additional acres of land, including the 3.1-acre Stump Dump, and the DEC denied the application.
A study released by Suffolk County last June found elevated levels of manganese and iron in the groundwater and concluded it was from mulching and composting on the site.
The DEC in September denied a renewal for Sand Land's mining permit, which was set to expire in November 2018. The state agency announced on March 15 it had reached an agreement that would allow the operation to continue for eight years and permit the mine to expand 40 feet deeper but require reclamation of the site in 10 years.