Shared from the 3/15/2018 Southampton Press - Eastern Edition eEdition

A Slow-Motion Catastrophe

It’s standard language for any story about the environment on the East End: Our sole-source aquifer, the place the region draws its drinking water, is beneath our feet, and it must be protected. At what point will that sink inand will it be in time?

There isn’t much surprise in the report on Friday that Sand Land in Noyac, a sand mine located in one of the most sensitive water recharge zones, appears to be a significant threat to the groundwater. It would be much more of a surprise if a mining operation owned by Wainscott Sand and Gravel, which was converted to a solid waste processing facility that stored mulch and construction debris in the resulting hole in the ground, was not polluting.

The report should underscore the urgency of this issue, and it requires quick action.

It’s time to decide whether this sand mine, and others throughout the East End, are simply obsolete operations, given the environmental risks. At the very least, it’s perfectly clear now, from both this study and others done by the Suffolk County Department of Health on mulching operations to the west, that using the property for solid waste recycling, even of vegetation, must be halted entirely—and should have been, frankly, years ago.

Like a catastrophe playing out in slow motion, this has been steadily unfolding for years, with the outcome sadly never in doubt. That’s a point that State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. made, forcefully, in his statement calling for action. He noted that he—and many others, including neighbors, environmental organizations and civic groups—have been sounding an alarm for far too long, only to have the State Department of Environmental Conservation, in particular, “turn a blind eye.” The department “has utterly failed to protect the public,” he added, by failing to provide enough oversight as Sand Land continued its operation, and even sought to expand.

It’s notable that the Suffolk County Department of Health still hasn’t released a report—it says it will be weeks before this raw information is confirmed. That’s symptomatic of the problem: the lethargy of bureaucracy, completely out of scale to the urgency that should be driving the response.

The State Supreme Court, which issued the order to install the test wells on the mine property last summer, likely will resolve the issue in another way—by confirming that Southampton Town, not the DEC, has the authority to have the final say about any potential expansion. The test results should convince the court of just how crucial local control is in this case.

More than anything, the days of listless debate are over. Sand Land is an active threat to the groundwater, for the homes surrounding it, and for the entire region that relies on the aquifer. This is a crisis for state, county and local officials—and urgency is long overdue.

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