New York State Attorney General Letitia James is no longer defending litigation involving a state permit issued to a controversial sand mine, a decision lauded by environmentalists and local elected officials.
Southampton Town and others took the state Department of Environmental Conservation to court in 2019 over the issuance of a permit allowing Sand Land in Noyac — which a 2018 Suffolk County report linked to groundwater contamination — to dig 40 feet deeper and operate for another eight years.
A May appellate court ruling found the DEC violated state environmental conservation law by issuing the permit.
James did not seek leave to file an appeal with the state Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, by the Thursday deadline ending her office’s participation in the lawsuit, according to attorneys representing the petitioners. Attorneys representing Sand Land did seek leave to file an appeal and the Court of Appeals will decide if the case is heard.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, one of the lawsuit’s petitioners, lauded the state’s decision not to further pursue the case.
"We were thrilled that the Attorney General wisely determined that she didn't want to represent the polluter," Esposito said Wednesday. "That saves our drinking water. It saves our environment. And it saves taxpayer money."
Representatives from the Attorney General’s office declined to comment. Sand Land attorney Gregory Brown confirmed that a request for leave to appeal had been filed and said he would seek to stay the order.
A state Supreme Court justice in September 2020 initially ruled the permit was valid, but the town appealed. A May ruling by a panel in the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court, Third Judicial Department, overturned that decision and stated the DEC ignored that Southampton zoning law prohibits new mining when it issued the permit.
The state appeared poised to continue the fight as recently as June when an assistant solicitor general in James’ office filed a memorandum that said the state did intend to seek leave to appeal the decision.
DEC officials declined to comment citing the ongoing litigation.
Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) praised the attorney general stating her decision was "a major victory for water quality and the environment" and called on the DEC to immediately close the mine.
"Without a valid permit, there is no legal basis for their continued operation in violation of the Appellate Division decision," Thiele said in a news release Wednesday.
A 2018 Suffolk County Department of Health Services report found that mulching and composting at Sand Land caused "significant adverse impacts on groundwater" and that manganese, a mineral that has been associated with neurological disorders, exceeded drinking water standards by almost 100 times and iron by more than 200 times.
Sand Land representatives have repeatedly denied those allegations.