Crazy Decisions: Issues at Sand Land in Noyac and Septic Rebates

Feed Me More! toilet cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

Two decisions made by local authorities in the last few weeks are totally nuts.

The first is a decision made by somebody named Kennedy, who heads up the Suffolk County Comptroller’s Office, that declared the grant money paid to installers of the new environmentally sensitive septic systems would be considered taxable income not only to the installers but to the property owners. It’s doubly taxable, it seems. They’ve sent out 1099s to both the installers and the residents.

The announcement of the decision came just weeks before April 15. Surprise! Pay up!

Everyone wants these septic systems installed in order to clean up lakes, ponds and other waterways. The new systems neutralize nitrogen, which the older systems leach into ponds and bays to cause algae blooms. But the new systems are very expensive, and since nobody is forced to put them in, the county offers financial help in the same way that a few years ago it began to grant money to people to help pay for solar panel installations.

The county septic system grants can be as high as $30,000.

It’s damn near that they give the money out and get back more than they gave. Let’s do it again! Didn’t America go to war against the British for the jacked-up taxes the British put on stamps and tea?

There had been a waiting list for those wishing to take advantage of the grants. Now I hear people are fleeing the waiting list. Who wants to accept a gift offered as tax free—since payment would be taxable to the installers, who got the money directly—only to be told they will owe taxes on it? What else will go wrong?

1099 tax form

I should also mention that separately both Southampton and East Hampton offer additional funds for the upgrades of septic systems in the form of rebates. That money is paid directly to the homeowners and comes from the Community Preservation Fund (CPF). The rebate is in addition to the grant from the county. Together they might equal the total cost of the installation in some cases, although they do not cover cost of landscaping repair.

The second nuts decision has been made by a state agency. There is a vast sand mine dug into the earth in Noyac. Sand mines are prohibited throughout the East End. But this mine predates zoning, so it is grandfathered in. With the grandfathering comes this caveat: You can’t expand the mine.

Since 2014, the owners of Sand Land have proposed to expand their 50-acre operation to include 4.9 additional acres to the dig. The dig would also be made deeper by 40 feet. Although opposing parties said it was illegal to expand like this, the town went through the motions of considering it. While doing so, they received a county report that dangerous chemicals were in the groundwater, including gross alpha radiation, heavy metals, iron and manganese. There was concern that this could make underground aquifer water there unsafe to drink. How could that happen from just mining sand, which was all that was permitted?

A report was issued by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) stating that this was occurring because at Sand Land, besides mining sand, there were “vegetative organic waste management activities” going on—large scale composting and mulching—which were completely prohibited. With these findings, as well as the fact that the company did not have a letter from Southampton Town stating that expansion was allowed under town code, the DEC had moved to shut down the mine last September.

Then last week the state DEC issued a decision saying that, having met with Sand Land officials, indeed Sand Land would be closed. By “closed” they meant “remain open.” For another eight years. And oh, by the way, the application to expand their operation by digging deeper by 40 feet would get approved. The agreement turns everything on its head. Basically, Sand Land’s been given a new license to be open, but bigger.

To review: This is the same NY State DEC that in the past said it would deny an expansion proposal, cited the groundwater issues, declared the mine not in compliance with SEQRA and said that it should be cleaned up. Sand Land appealed that decision, but they lost.

Why would the DEC reverse itself? Who knows?

Our State Legislator Fred Thiele is as puzzled as anybody.

“This is like Orwell’s 1984. Down is up and up is down.”

It feels like a charade, and that can’t continue. We have to get to the bottom of whatever it is that has caused this flip-flop.

Of interest is the fact that you can’t blame this on Donald Trump. If the reversal had come from the feds, you could. But this comes from the state.

I say fire the guy who insisted on the septic tax. Even if he is a Kennedy. And I say require the DEC officials who reversed the Sand Land decision to publicly drink a half gallon of the water at Sand Land, or agree to reverse it back to a true closing “closing.”

* * *

Almost immediately after the nutty Sand Land decision was issued, a party of 13 organizations and individuals filed a lawsuit to prevent its being implemented. The petitioners included State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, the Town of Southampton, the Bridge Golf Club, the Noyac Civic Council, neighbors Margot Gilman, Amelia Dogwiler and Joseph Pfair, the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Southampton Town Civic Coalition, the Group for the East End and others.

As a result, Judge Kimberly O’Conner in Albany has now issued an order instructing Sand Land not to implement the agreement made with the DEC or do any further sand mining until May 3. In the meantime, further meetings would take place, including one on April 30 (after our deadline), in an Albany courtroom.

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