The Environmental Protection Agency will not investigate a controversial Noyac sand mine or designate it a Superfund site as opponents of the operation had hoped.
Regional EPA administrator Peter Lopez in a January letter to U.S. Rep Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said instead the state Department of Environmental Conservation should continue to oversee the mine, although critics have accused the agency of being too lax in its regulation of the site.
“We believe that NYSDEC’s plans to continue overseeing Sand Land's groundwater monitoring efforts is the appropriate path forward,” the letter reads.
Members of the Noyac Civic Council — which is part of a lawsuit filed against the DEC seeking to overturn Sand Land’s mining permit — through Zeldin asked the EPA to review groundwater contamination issues at the Wainscott Sand & Gravel-owned facility and name it a Superfund site.
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.
But the DEC has not accepted those findings, criticizing the data collection methods in court filings. The state agency stunned environmentalists and local officials when it announced in March 2019 that it reached an agreement allowing Sand Land to continue mining for eight years and permit the operator to expand 40 feet deeper, but banned composting on the site. The DEC defended the settlement, saying it imposed the most stringent requirements on any sand mining operation in the state.
The EPA sided with the DEC on the issue.
“We are satisfied with the NYSDEC’s conclusion that the elevated concentrations of iron and manganese are natural occurring and do not present a risk,” Lopez said.
The decision is a win for Sand Land attorneys who have argued local officials and community members unfairly targeted the mine. Representatives have strongly disputed the county’s findings and said their own investigation found the operation did not cause the contamination.
“These parties have consistently failed — at the state level with the NYSDEC and the courts and now at the federal level with the EPA — to show that Sand Land has had any negative effect on the aquifer,” Sand Land attorney Brian Matthews said in a statement.
Bob DeLuca, president of the environmental nonprofit Group for the East End and a former analyst with the county health department, questioned why the EPA didn’t consult with the county.
“The county health department has been the gold standard for groundwater investigation for decades,” he said. “To me that’s where the EPA should have focused its attention.”
The lawsuit is pending in state Supreme Court in Albany.
“We will continue to utilize every option as town officials and local residents await a decision in their ongoing legal battle,” Zeldin said in a statement.