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Five Suffolk towns subpoenaed in DA's probe of sand mining

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine is shown

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine is shown in this June 9, 2015 file photo. Credit: Steve Pfost

The Suffolk County district attorney's office is investigating sand mining on Long Island and has subpoenaed at least five Suffolk towns and a state agency seeking records related to the practice, the towns and sources said.

Brookhaven, Islip, Riverhead, Huntington and Babylon officials are among those that received subpoenas this year from District Attorney Thomas Spota's office.

"Brookhaven Town welcomes this investigation," Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said. "The DA by doing this is helping the environment. And we support his efforts."

The state Department of Environmental Conservation also received a subpoena for sand-mining records, a source said.

In at least one case, the subpoena requested sand-mining documents dating back more than 10 years -- including town correspondence with the DEC, documents on sand mines and information on fees towns have collected from sand-mining operations.

District attorney spokesman Robert Clifford did not comment on the investigation.

The DA's examination of sand mining comes in the wake of its probe into illegal dumping in and around Islip Town.

Six men and four companies were indicted in December in connection with a scheme to dump contaminated fill in a Brentwood park, a vacant lot in Central Islip, a six-home development for veterans in Islandia and a state-protected wetlands area in Deer Park.

Sand mining and dumping often accompany each other since the hole from sand mining presents an opportunity for debris disposal, said Sarah Meyland, director of the Center for Water Resources Management at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury.

"There is a real risk that once the sand comes out, there's now a spot to take whatever waste people want to get rid of and quickly fill it up," she said. "And then if they put a veneer of clean fill on top, it's very, very difficult to know that below that veneer that looks proper will be things that are not proper."

Groundwater woes

Contaminated fill placed in sand-mined holes near the groundwater level can be especially problematic, she said, because the contaminants can more quickly and easily leach into the aquifer system, which is the sole source of drinking water for Long Islanders.

Brookhaven Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto said her town received a subpoena in late March or early April asking for records related to a specific site: BlueGreen Farms in Yaphank, an aquaponic fish and vegetable farm under construction that Eaderesto said has excavated sand to a depth of 50 feet.

"We gave everything to them and we've been working cooperatively," Eaderesto said of Spota's office.

Four months ago, Brookhaven issued a stop-work order against BlueGreen Farms barring the company from further sand excavation, she said. But about a month ago, she said the town, acting on a tip, found trucks hauling sand out of the site in the middle of the night and issued tickets.

Leonard Shore, a Commack attorney representing BlueGreen Farms, said he was not aware of any violations of the stop-work order.

"I don't believe any sand was removed from the site since the stop-work order has been issued," he said. "I personally have not seen any tickets."

Shore said that any sand taken out of the site and sold was ancillary to the main goal of constructing the aquaponic system. "It's a definitional thing. We're not sand mining -- we're regrading the property," Shore said.

He said the profits from selling the sand covered at most 10 percent of the cost of building the system.

The Town of Islip also received a subpoena relating to records it keeps on sand mining -- and the town itself has investigated a site on Furrows Road on the Holtsville-Holbrook border where it believes sand mining and back filling are occurring, a source said.

In a statement, Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said the town had learned of "allegations of illegal dumping" at the site.

Dumping allegations

"We immediately contacted our Town of Islip DEC commissioner who observed questionable activities that would ordinarily be regulated by state agencies," Carpenter said.

She said the town referred the matter to the state DEC.

DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino confirmed the agency is investigating two properties on Furrows Road in Holbrook.

A woman who answered the phone Friday at a number for the owner of one of the properties said no one was available to comment and calls to other numbers listed for the owners of both properties were not immediately returned.

The Town of Riverhead turned over documents relating to sand mining to the district attorney after receiving a subpoena on March 10, Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz said.

Babylon Town spokesman Kevin Bonner confirmed his town received a subpoena on March 6 but said the town had no records to turn over.

Huntington Town has complied with a subpoena it received, town spokesman A.J. Carter said.

The district attorney's office also subpoenaed the DEC for records related to sand mining, a source said.

Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the state Assembly's environmental-conservation committee, said he welcomed the district attorney's investigation.

"I see it as something that will bring this issue into sharper focus," said Englebright, who added he plans to work on legislation allowing for more town oversight of mining within its borders.

"The way the environmental conservation law is written, once you get a permit to sand mine, you have an as-of-right to fill that cavity back up after the mining process has been completed," he said. "That's a real headache for the towns."

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