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Mining on Long Island

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DEC, in consultation with the New York Department of Health (DOH), has prepared for review and comment, a draft work plan (PDF) (2 MB) for our study of the potential impact to groundwater quality from sand and gravel mining on Long Island. DEC is extending the timeframe to provide comments until November 30, 2021. Please submit comments on the draft work plan to GWstudyLImines@dec.ny.gov.

New topics have been added and updates made to the Topics about Mining on Long Island section.

Mined Land Reclamation Law

Mining has a long history in New York State. Sand and gravel from Long Island have been used for over a century to provide raw materials to develop and maintain infrastructure for the local area and New York City. Prior to the Mined Land Reclamation Law (MLRL) going into effect on April 1, 1975, regulation of mining in New York lacked consistency. The intent of the MLRL is to provide for the regulation of the extractive mining industry by:

  • fostering and encouraging the development of an economically sound and stable mining industry,
  • the orderly development of domestic mineral resources necessary for the economic needs of New York,
  • mandating the use of sound environmental management practices.

The MLRL further provides for the reclamation of affected lands to a productive use, to prevent pollution, to protect and perpetuate the taxable value of property, to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the people, as well as the natural beauty and aesthetic values in the affected areas of the state. The extractive mining industry remains a critical, foundational component of the state economy. DEC, through implementation of the MLRL, ensures that the essential minerals are developed in an environmentally responsible manner while also ensuring that affected lands are reclaimed and returned to productive use at the sites of mineral extraction.

Mining on Long Island Pictures

Examples of sand & gravel mines on Long Island

View across the active mine permitted by CMA Mine LLC.
View across the active mine permitted by CMA Mine LLC.
View across the active mine permitted by Coram Materials Corp.
View across the active mine permitted by Coram Materials Corp.


Equipment in operation at sand & gravel mines on Long Island

Suction dredge in operation at the Roanoke Sand & Gravel Corp mine.
Suction dredge in operation at the Roanoke Sand & Gravel Corp
mine.
Typical equipment seen at sand and gravel mines.
Typical equipment seen at sand and gravel mines.


Reclamation at sand & gravel mines on Long Island

Looking across the reclaimed slope and mine floor at the Wainscott Properties Inc mine. The mine received final reclamation approval in June 2020.
Looking across the reclaimed slope and mine floor at the
Wainscott Properties Inc. mine. The mine received final
reclamation approval in June 2020.
View of slope undergoing concurrent reclamation at the Roanoke Sand & Gravel Corp mine.
View of slope undergoing concurrent reclamation at the Roanoke
Sand & Gravel Corp. mine.


Award winning mine reclamation at a Long Island mine

Golf Course Reclamation of the former Colonial Sand & Stone mine by the Town of North Hempstead. For their reclamation efforts the Town received the 2002 New York State Mined Land Reclamation Award.
Golf Course Reclamation of the former Colonial Sand & Stone mine by the Town of North Hempstead. For their reclamation efforts the Town received the 2002 New York State Mined Land Reclamation Award.
Golf Course Reclamation of the former Colonial Sand & Stone mine by the Town of North Hempstead. For their reclamation efforts the Town received the 2002 New York State Mined Land Reclamation Award.
Golf Course Reclamation of the former Colonial Sand & Stone mine by the Town of North Hempstead. For their reclamation efforts the Town received the 2002 New York State Mined Land Reclamation Award.

Golf course reclamation of the former Colonial Sand & Stone mine by the Town of North Hempstead.
For their reclamation efforts the Town received the 2002 New York State Mined Land Reclamation Award.

Draft Work Plan for Groundwater Study at Long Island Mines

DEC, in consultation with the New York Department of Health (DOH), has prepared for review and comment, a draft work plan (PDF) (2 MB) for our study of the potential impact to groundwater quality from sand and gravel mining on Long Island. The work plan outlines specific groundwater monitoring and reporting procedures that participating operators need to follow including the use of best practices throughout the three-year study period. This will allow DEC to compare results between year and among sites. At the conclusion of the study, DEC will summarize the results and provide recommendations to ensure protection of Long Island's sole source aquifer. DEC is extending the timeframe to provide comments until November 30, 2021. Please submit comments on the draft work plan to GWstudyLImines@dec.ny.gov.

Presentation

DEC held a public meeting on July 6, 2021, and four (4) stakeholder meetings on June 15, 17, 21 and 25, 2021. Staff prepared a presentation for the meetings. A copy of the presentation Groundwater Study at Long Island Mines (PDF) (1.2 MB) used during the meetings is available.

Topics about Mining on Long Island (Region 1)

Active Mines and Material Extracted

There are currently 23 active sand and gravel mines located in Suffolk County - 21 industry mines and 2 town mines. Four mines are located in the Town of Brookhaven, three in East Hampton, one in Huntington, five in Riverhead, one in Shelter Island, two in Smithtown, and seven in Southampton. There are currently no mines located in Nassau County. Statewide, there are about 1,800 active mines.

The majority of mining in New York, including the sand and gravel mined on Long Island, is used in construction materials to build and maintain the state's infrastructure. Roads, bridges and foundations are a few things that the materials are needed for. The sand is also used for beach restoration.

New York Mineral Resources and Economy

Mineral resources are an important economic asset of New York State. New York State is rich in minerals which are mined for a variety of industrial and infrastructure uses. Sand and gravel mines are found throughout the state as well as numerous limestone, dolomite, sandstone, granite and bluestone quarries. Zinc, garnet and wollastonite continue to be mined. Two large underground salt mines operate in central and western New York. While not currently mined, large iron and titanium reserves exist in the Adirondack region.

New York is among the top third in the nation in value of minerals produced. The 2021 USGS Minerals Commodity Summary places the value of the 2020 mineral production in New York at $1.69 billion. The total economic impact of mining in New York was estimated to be $4.98 billion in 2011. The economic impact would be expected to have increased substantially in the decade since the study.

Maintaining and creating new infrastructure relies heavily on the use of sand and gravel. The materials costs are directly affected by supply and demand. As the number of mine sites decrease, the price of the commodity increases. Mineral aggregates are high volume, low unit-cost materials. Because of this, transportation costs quickly outstrip the costs of the materials when the transport distance exceeds 25 miles.

Regulatory Framework

Mining has a long history in New York State. Sand and gravel from Long Island have been used for more than a century to provide basic materials to develop and maintain infrastructure for the local area and New York City. Prior to the Mined Land Reclamation Law (MLRL) going into effect on April 1, 1975, mining in New York was mostly unregulated with a patchwork of inconsistent approaches. For more information on the MLRL see https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/24992.html.

The MLRL states that any person who mines or proposes to mine more than 1,000 tons or 750 cubic yards, whichever is less, of minerals from the earth within 12 successive calendar months shall not engage in such mining unless DEC has issued a permit for such mining operation. Certain extraction of minerals in aid of construction projects or agricultural activities are not be subject to the jurisdiction of the Mined Land Reclamation Law.

In New York, regulated mining operations have an approved mining plan that specifies how mining will take place and an approved reclamation plan that provides for the return of the mine site to productive use. Financial security submitted and maintained by the permittee ensures that the mine site will be reclaimed when mining ceases. Since the state Mined Land Reclamation Law was enacted in 1975, DEC has issued more than 4,800 mining permits and more than 3,000 mines have been reclaimed across the state. Operators have reclaimed most of the mines. In the small number of cases where the operators have defaulted on their obligation to reclaim, DEC seized the financial security and used it to carry out the reclamation of the mine.

Today, sites in New York State that were previously mined are used as farms, wetlands, wildlife habitats, residential developments and public recreation areas.

Town Role in Regulation of Mining

Towns can determine where proposed new mining is permissible through their zoning laws and ordinances. DEC will issue a mining permit after conducting a technical review and determining that the mining operation will comply with applicable statutory and regulatory requirements, including the State Environmental Quality Review Act, as appropriate. A complete application for a new mining permit consists of completed application forms, a mined land-use plan, a statement by the applicant that mining is not prohibited at that location, and such additional information as the DEC may require. For new mine applications in DEC Region 1 (i.e., Nassau and Suffolk counties), the SEQR Coordination letter inquires as to whether local zoning ordinances prohibit mining uses at the location proposed for mining. In these cases, DEC relies solely on the determination made by the municipality's Chief Administrative Officer on whether mining is a permissible land use at the proposed location. If the Chief Administrative Officer determines mining is not permissible at the proposed location, the application is incomplete, and DEC will notify the applicant that processing cannot advance until the local prohibition is removed. Additionally, in Region 1, towns may enact local laws or ordinances requiring the monitoring of groundwater impacts resulting from mining.

As part of the DEC's review of a mining application for a mine not previously permitted, DEC determines the accuracy of materials submitted in the application, assesses impacts of the project on the environment in the immediate and surrounding areas, and determines whether the project satisfies applicable permitting standards. If the application is determined to be complete, DEC publishes a notice of complete application. The notice provides a period during which the public may provide comments on the project. The Chief Administrative Officer of the local government may make a determination, and notify the DEC and applicant, in regard to:

  • appropriate setbacks from property boundaries or public thoroughfare rights-of-way;
  • ​manmade or natural barriers designed to restrict access if needed, and, if affirmative, the type, length, height and location thereof;
  • ​the control of dust;
  • hours of operation; and
  • whether mining is prohibited at that location.

DEC makes a final decision on the application by either issuing a permit with conditions or denying the application with an explanation for the denial. If a permit is issued, the permittee, with the exception of municipally operated mines, is required to provide financial security for the reclamation of the mine prior to permit issuance in an amount determined by DEC pursuant to regulation to ensure proper reclamation of the site.

Permitting of Mines

Mining permits are issued when:

  • a complete application is submitted and undergoes both a SEQR and technical review; and
  • DEC determines that the proposed operation will minimize potential impacts to the environment and public.

DEC will:

  • determine the accuracy of materials submitted in the application;
  • assess potential impacts of the project on the environment in the immediate and surrounding area; and
  • determine whether the project satisfies applicable permitting standards.

If the application is determined to be complete, DEC will prepare a notice of complete application. The notice provides an opportunity for the public to submit comments on the project. DEC will issue a decision in the form of a permit with conditions or a statement that the permit applied for has been denied, with an explanation for the denial. If the decision is made to issue the permit, industry mines are required to provide reclamation financial security in the amount determined by DEC to ensure reclamation of the site.

Reclamation of Mines

When mining is completed permittees are required by law to reclaim mines subject to DEC approval. The site will be reclaimed according to the reclamation plan contained in the DEC approved mined land use plan. Reclamation of the affected land must be completed within a two year period after mining is terminated, as determined by DEC, unless DEC deems it in the best interest of the people of the state to allow a longer period for reclamation. DEC also encourages concurrent reclamation at mines.

Reclamation objectives should be consistent with local land use planning and adjacent land uses. After final reclamation approval by DEC, the site is no longer subject to jurisdiction under the MLRL. Post-mining land use and development of the site is controlled by local zoning, as well as being subject to other approvals which may be required.

Financial Security for Mines

Before DEC issues a mined land reclamation permit, the applicant must furnish financial security. This ensures the performance of reclamation as provided in the approved mined land-use plan. For each mine:

  • DEC determines the amount of the financial security based upon the estimated cost of reclaiming the affected land;
  • The financial security shall remain in full force and effect until DEC has approved the reclamation;
  • If the permittee fails to commence or to complete the reclamation as required, DEC may seize the financial security to complete reclamation of the site.

Mines Excavating below the Water Table and Reclamation in Region 1

Currently, four mines are excavating below the water table, and two other mines are permitted for below water table mining operations. There are also pending permit applications to mine below the water table at existing permitted mine sites.

Four of the water-based mining operations will be reclaimed to lakes and wildlife habitat. Of these, several of the sites are expected to be donated for public access. One of the sites will be used as a recreational water ski park that will rely upon a tow line system, rather than the use of gas-powered boats in the lake.

Mine Expansions

Most, if not all, existing permitted mine sites on Long Island have reached their lateral limits for mining. Due to zoning restrictions by the towns, these mines cannot expand horizontally. This leads to proposals to excavate deeper, and in some instances below the water table. DEC reviews each proposal based on the merits of the application before rendering a decision on permit issuance.

The SEQR process applies to all mining permit applications. Mining applications that propose to mine into groundwater require groundwater background information. Groundwater monitoring is required as a condition once a permit is issued. Typically, monitoring wells are installed in advance of submitting an application to mine into groundwater so the applicant can collect water level, flow and baseline data.

Water Quality Monitoring at Mines

Groundwater is the only source of drinking water for Nassau and Suffolk county residents. DEC shares the concerns of residents and environmental groups regarding protecting this vital resource.

DEC-issued mining permits provide significant protections to groundwater resources on Long Island through requirements such as proper containment for liquids that could spill, prevention of stormwater runoff and erosion, and water quality monitoring. For example, when a mine is proposed to intersect the water table, a groundwater monitoring plan is required as part of the permitting process. To evaluate potential impacts of mining into groundwater on the local hydrogeologic system, the applicant must also provide baseline hydrogeologic data.
In general, each mine that is removing sand from below the water table is required to:

  • Have monitoring wells both upgradient and downgradient of the mine that are tested routinely for compounds of interest;
  • Depending on the depth of excavation, requiring installation of multi-level monitoring wells;
  • Submit groundwater quality information to DEC for review to ensure that contamination is not present;
  • Any mines that store fuel must maintain a spill prevention and control plan; and
  • Report any spills to the DEC Spill Hotline within two hours of detection.

Assessment of Mine Impacts on Water Quantity

DEC has received several questions concerning impact of mines on water levels and the drying up of natural surface waters such as lakes, ponds and rivers and their surrounding wetlands.

Concerning rates of evaporation (loss of water via the suns energy), operators must evaluate potential impacts of evaporation losses from the creation of an artificial lake and impact to receptors of concern (existing lakes, rivers and wetlands) are required to be assessed.

At two of the largest sand and gravel mines in Suffolk County with artificial lakes, Roanoke (located in Middle Island) and Coram (located in Miller Place), studies completed circa 2000 by licensed professionals indicated that evaporation losses equated to approximately 28-30 million of gallons per year (≈82,000 gallons per day). A more recent study performed in 2021 by licensed professionals at CMA Mine, which will create a future artificial lake, indicated evaporation losses at approximately 1 million gallons per year (≈3,700 gallons per day).

While the net losses of groundwater owing to evaporation may appear significant, consider that public water supply withdrawals in Suffolk County alone are estimated to be 231 million gallons per day, which is approximately 16% of total recharge (≈1,395 million gallons per day) to the aquifer, see Simulation of groundwater flow in the regional aquifer system on Long Island, New York, for pumping and recharge conditions in 2005-15 (usgs.gov) (link leaves DEC website). By comparison, the water losses from evaporation at artificial lakes at Coram, Roanoke and CMA are considered insignificant.

Concerning the lowering of water levels due to evaporation, hydrogeological impact studies performed at sand and gravel mines at Coram, Roanoke, and CMA (located in Riverhead) indicate that changes in water levels due to evaporation were not a concern. If anything, short-term impacts during the summer season (when evaporation is often greatest) were determined to be limited to the immediate area of the mines. That is, unless there is a river, pond or lake adjoining the mine, there is little to no adverse impact to water levels further beyond.

It is worth noting that there is ample evidence to support this general understanding. For example, at Coram and Roanoke, groundwater flow direction has been consistently moving off-site in a direction that closely matches regional groundwater flow directions. If there was a substantial loss of groundwater due to evaporation, site-specific groundwater flow direction would be towards the artificial lake.

Further, when comparing changes in water level at mine ponds or lakes to rates of recharge, significant changes in those water levels are correlated to precipitation records and in some areas, in response to public water supply pumpage.

Illegal Mining

As permitted mines close, the incentive for illegal mining increases. The term "scoop and fill" is used to describe the illegal activities of excavating a hole to take sand and backfilling the hole with solid waste. There are no mining or solid waste permits, and therefore no oversight, or even knowledge by, DEC that the activities are taking place. While DEC vigorously pursues enforcement, many bad actors are not found, and expensive cleanups fall on unsuspecting properties owners or taxpayers.
The economic incentive to illegally mine will increase as the price of sand and gravel rise and the number of permitted sites dwindles.

Other DEC Permitted or Approved Activities at Mines

Studies at sites on Long Island other than mines support a possible relationship between mulching and composting and effects on groundwater where leachate from the activity may break down iron and manganese in the soil and cause elevated levels. There has not been a verifiable case of groundwater impacts from vegetative waste processing at permitted mines.

DECinfo Locator

DECinfo Locator is a map-based way to easily view basic information on specific sites in New York State.

Additional information will be posted as it becomes available.


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