Cuomo vetoes bill that would have given local governments more control over sand mines

Vera Chinese for Newsday

Originally published in Newsday

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have given local governments greater control over sand mines and instead directed the state departments of environmental conservation and health to study mining’s impact on groundwater.

Cuomo said the bill, which was met with staunch opposition from the construction industry, would not lead to better water-quality protection and gives local municipalities "expansive, yet ill-defined" authority over mining.

"This bill will lead to unnecessary confusion within the regulated community and costly disruption to the supply of construction materials on Long Island," the governor said in his veto message. "The protection of Long Island’s water quality is of paramount concern, but is already accomplished through a host of state and federal environmental laws ... and mine sites are subject to such laws."

He directed the state agencies to study the impact of sand mining on Long Island’s groundwater, solicit feedback from stakeholders and the Suffolk County Health Department, hold at least one public hearing and consider three years of data. The state will then submit its findings in a public report.

The legislation, passed by the state Assembly and Senate in July, would have given local governments the ability to prohibit mining when the state or local government has documented groundwater contamination caused by the site or where debris is processed, stored and sold.

More than half of the 23 active-permitted Long Island mines are in Southampton, East Hampton, Riverhead and Shelter Island towns.

Representatives of the Long Island Contractors’ Association, which lobbied the governor to veto the bill, said the legislation would have dramatically driven up construction costs and closed Long Island’s sand mines.

"We think this is the appropriate approach," Marc Herbst, the group’s executive director said of the veto and the requirement to study the issue.

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), the bill’s sponsor in the Assembly, noted the legislation was identical to the regulatory framework the state and local governments share over wetland protection and that it followed recommendations included in an October 2019 Suffolk County Special Grand Jury report.

Thiele had harsh words Tuesday for the DEC.

"The opposition of the state DEC exposes what East End Towns, civic groups and environmental organizations have known for years," he said in a statement. "The commitment of the State DEC to clean water is empty rhetoric. By opposing this legislation, the state agency whose mission is the protection of our drinking water is instead protecting the polluter."

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, said he hopes the study will pave the way for future changes.

"The issue of sand mining will continue to be a critical one for Long Island water quality," he said. "But I am heartened that the state will conduct a study, the results of which will hopefully lead to real regulation that can reach a balance that protects both the environment and this industry."

Adrienne Esposito of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment called the study a significant step forward in addressing the issue.

"The message recognizes that there are serious groundwater threats, and we need to make sure the DEC updates and modernizes their policies," she said.