Mixed Feelings Over Groundwater Monitoring

While residents and local business owners alike see groundwater monitoring as a good idea, most claim the devil’s in the details of a proposed law requiring careful examination of the effects of local mines, which many at an April 30 public hearing on the matter say still need to be hammered out.

If approved, the resolution states that no person shall engage in mining within the town without first providing a groundwater monitoring program. The program must be prepared by someone certified by either the National Ground Water Association, American Institute of Hydrology, or the American Institute of Professional Geologists. The program must contain the history of the site development and any historical data present on groundwater elevations and groundwater flow, and the type and thickness of geographical materials. There will also need to be a site survey with the proposed location of a minimum of three monitoring wells.

“As the board’s aware, there’s a growing body of evidence that our sole-source aquifer is threatened by a variety of contaminants, including those emanating from mining operations, which by their very nature remove the buffering organic overburden and extract mineral soils that lie between the natural topography and the aquifer below, and in many cases that can shorten the distance between the contamination and the aquifer,” said Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End. “So anything that you can do toward helping us with that would be greatly appreciated.”

He and others like Kevin McAllister, founder and president of the nonprofit Defend H2O; Elena Loreto, president of the Noyac Civic Council, and Chuck Newman, the council’s past president, asked for clarification in the law on the depth and location of the wells, what compounds will need to be tested for, the frequency of the testing, if monitoring is just for point of origin, and a timeline for compliance if a problem is detected. The only timeline given in the proposal currently is that within 90 days of notification by the town a program must be submitted for review and approval by the town board.

Kevin Brown of the environmental law firm Brown, Duke & Fogel, and David Eagan of David E. Eagan & Associates PLLC, who were at the public hearing representing a few of the less than 10 mine owners in the town, see other issues with the proposition.

Brown, for example, who represents Huntington Ready Mix Concrete and Westhampton Property Associates — businesses that operate sand mine sites on Speonk-Riverhead Road in Southampton — pointed to there being no baseline levels of contamination that would require remediation, and no way to tell if the levels of contamination are from mining or something else, noting especially high levels of iron and manganese already reported across Long Island.

Eagan, representing the owner of East Coast Mines and Materials Corps, who operates a sand mine in East Quogue, took things a step further.

“There is no established scientific basis that sand mining negatively impacts groundwater,” he said. “And no local government can control the process and operation of a mine. That’s one overarching concern.”

Eagan claimed the town does not have the authority to require remediation, nor the authority to enforce state or federal remediation or groundwater monitoring standards. He also believes the town does not have right to shut down a mine when an operator had a state Department of Environmental Conservation permit. Town Land Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins had said the law states “there would be a cease operation order of mining activities and/or reclamation until mitigation could be determined and identified, and a plan be implemented until the area is back in compliance.”

Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said monitoring programs would vary on a case-by-case basis, in terms of chemicals to be tested for, areas of testing, frequency, and protocols for sample handling and test turnaround times.

Stan Warshaw, vice president of operations at Hampton Sand Corporation in Speonk, said he doesn’t see how miners can be the contaminants.

“We take dirt out of the ground and put nothing on top of it. How do we cause contamination?” Warshaw asked. “Maybe it’s rainwater contamination.”

He said because businesses like those represented by Brown and Eagan have no problem with the monitoring, and have already gone ahead and installed monitoring wells because it benefits their businesses in the long run, he doesn’t see the need for the town to approve a resolution affecting so few people and have a legal battle ensue.

“What does sand do? It saves your beaches. It saves homes,” Warshaw said. “Sand is a finite item, and the cost has become incredible with added rules and regulations. Let’s live in practicality — we all want to preserve the island. We all live on this island.”

The board adjourned the hearing until the next regular meeting on Tuesday, May 14, because the resolution’s sponsor, Councilwoman Christine Preston Scalera, was absent from the hearing. Pursuit of the law came shortly after the state DEC entered a settlement agreement, in March, with the owners of Sand Land, a mine in Noyac, that grants additional operating time and land to excavate.

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