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Appeals court: Southampton can regulate sand mine activities

Southampton Town can block a sand mine from grinding up asphalt and other unpermitted activities, an appeals court has ruled, pleasing activists hoping to protect the aquifer beneath it.

The appellate court reversed a town justice and rejected the quarry’s argument that only the state can govern these operations. Instead, the court held for Southampton and against Wainscott Sand and Gravel Corp. and a related firm, saying the sand mine is “subject to local regulation and to enforcement through the criminal process.”

For years, Sand Land has fought to expand its 50-acre site — and crush tree and construction debris there. But the mine sits over the South Fork aquifer, where land use is tightly regulated, say activists who charge the mine’s pulverizing of debris pollutes the groundwater.

“After 5 years of battling this, the town now has the tools to fix the problem,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, nonprofit conservation advocates, said, “Our first goal is to really get the operations out of there that appear to be responsible for contamination — as well as [those that] don’t belong there” under the zoning laws.

A lawyer for and an official with Bridgehampton-based Wainscott’s Sand Land Corp. had no immediate comment on the April 5 ruling.

Now, the town justice court must rule on four violations Southampton issued the quarry in 2013 in connection with its certificate of occupancy.

The appellate court said the mine was ticketed for “among other things, engaging in the processing of trees, brush, stumps, leaves and other clearing debris into topsoil or mulch, and by allowing road construction debris, including concrete and asphalt, to be deposited and processed at the mining premises.”

Elena Loreto, president, NOYAC Civic Council, which focuses on quality-of-life issues, said “We’re hoping the [appeals court] decision will put a stop to this.”

Assistant Town Attorney Richard Harris declined to say whether Southampton will issue more tickets.

Suffolk’s Department of Health said it still is reviewing tests of water from wells drilled near and at the site.

Tests done privately from those sample wells “revealed high contamination levels of heavy metals, radionuclides and other contaminates,” the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Group for the East End and Noyac Civic Council said in a joint statement.

If the sand mine is ordered to stop grinding up debris, DeLuca hopes a cleanup will follow. “As part of the penalty, we certainly are thinking you can seek some kind of [remediation], in addition to getting the materials out.”

At least two more court battles lie ahead.

The state Supreme Court must decide whether to grant Southampton’s request for an injunction to stop the quarry from crushing debris.

And a Department of Environmental Conservation administrative law judge will decide whether the quarry can grow by 4.9 acres. A DEC spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

Environmentalists oppose the expansion, saying it would violate 1970s-era laws banning new sand mines. Sand Land, they say, must cease operating as a quarry when it runs out of sand.

“It just goes back and forth,” said Loreto.

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