Top NY Court Nullifies Sand Land Permit, But Case Is Not Over Yet

Sand Land
Sand Land
Independent/Stephen J. Kotz

New York State’s top court recently nullified mining permits for Sand Land, the Noyac-based mine at the center of a long-running legal dispute, but the litigation appears far from over.

The state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, February 9 that while mining operations must be halted, it ordered the state Department of Conservation (DEC) to have Albany County court rehear the case and decide if mining can continue despite a Town of Southampton law prohibiting it.

The top court also ordered the Town of Southampton to decide if the mine’s request to extend operations on its 50-acre site would be allowable as a nonconforming use — a variance that would permit it to continue mining despite the town law prohibiting such operations in the area — since the ban was enacted after the mine was established.

Surveillance camera footage of crews operating at the Sand Land mine in Noyac on June 7. (Courtesy of Noyac Civic Council)
Surveillance camera footage of crews operating at the Sand Land mine in Noyac in 2021Courtesy of Noyac Civic Council

“Both DEC and the town have previously concluded that mining is not entirely prohibited under the relevant local zoning laws,” Acting Chief Judge Anthony Cannataro wrote for the panel of judges. “Although we agree that the statute must be read to be consistent with mine owners’ constitutionally protected rights, we reject Sand Land’s assertion that mine owners have a constitutional right to mine their parcels to an indefinite depth, limited only by DEC’s safety regulations.”

The town had sued the DEC, arguing that the agency’s permit ran afoul of town code prohibiting mines to protect the public drinking water aquifer.

A Suffolk County court ruled in 2020 that the mine’s permit was valid but an appeals court panel had ruled in 2021 that the DEC had violated state environmental law when it granted a permit for the expansion of the Sand Land mine in 2018. The latest ruling affirms that decision.

“This is a victory for the public and for clean water,” state Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) said. “With the mining permits annulled, the DEC must now immediately close this illegal mine. No further delays can be tolerated.”

A representative for the DEC said the agency declined to comment beyond stating that it is reviewing the decision. An attorney for the mine could not be reached.