By Jano Tantongco
Opponents of the proposed 486,000-square-foot Elwood Orchard shopping mall have taken aim at the environmental aspects of the Jericho Turnpike project, highlighting potential impacts for groundwater contamination.
Professional civil engineer Paul Besmertnik, of Melville, explained that the project planned to be built on a high-elevation site, on the northeast corner of Jericho and Manor Road. Besmertnik said the location is especially sensitive to contamination, due to maximum elevations, which, according project documents, range 284 feet-296 feet above mean sea level.
“When you build a shopping center… where do you think all the water goes to?” Besmertnik said in an interview Monday. “It goes into the groundwater, and it flows gently down towards the south.”
He argued that the pollutants dripping out of cars would also contribute to the “effect on the water quality in our three great water districts,” which are Dix Hills, Greenlawn and South Huntington.
In regards to potential stormwater runoff, estimated concentrations of inorganic chemicals “do not have the potential to adversely affect groundwater quality,” according to the draft environmental impact statement that was done for the project and filed with the Town of Huntington.
Kouros Torkan, principal of project developer Syndicated Ventures, said he did not feel qualified to speak on the environmental aspects of the program, but believed there was no adverse impact.
“We voluntarily did the DEIS to specifically review the environmental impact,” he said. “There is no negative environmental impact on the groundwater to the best of my understanding.”
But Besmertnik claimed “you don’t have to have a PhD to figure this out.”
“Just like when you pollute with one smokestack, it doesn’t lead… to greenhouse gasses, it’s all a cumulative effect,” Besmertnik said.
Another one of the defining characteristics of the site project is its sand mounds. At the June 22 Huntington Planning Board meeting, Besmertnik asserted that the dunes act as a filter for water that ends up going into Long Island’s water table.
Long Island gets its water from underground. There are three primary aquifers that provide drinkable water, one of which, the Magothy aquifer, is primarily used in the area of the planned project. The Magothy aquifer, which sits on top of the Lloyd aquifer, is used by many wells throughout Suffolk
The project sits just south of the water table’s groundwater divide. Long Island’s groundwater flows north and south of this divide.
“The major zone of recharge, especially to the Magothy and Lloyd aquifers, is along the center of the island where the water table is highest,” according to a groundwater report from Stony Brook University’s Earth Science Educational Resource Center.
The center of the water table, the report further elaborates, is in fact the groundwater divide. Since water flows north and south from this point, any water that falls on the divide tends to go vertically into the ground. When this occurs, it replenishes the deep aquifers in a process called “recharge.”
According to a report from the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, “Unfortunately, this means that contaminants on the land within the deep-flow recharge area can also infiltrate the Magothy and Lloyd easily.”
Further explaining the characteristics of groundwater, Henry Bokuniewicz, director of the Groundwater Institute at Stony Brook, explained that “the aquifer is not like a swimming pool.”
“If you pour ink in one part of the pool, it just spreads all over the place,” he said.
He elaborated and said that, if contaminants have a short pathway to the water table, they can then easily spread in slow-moving contaminant plumes.
In the project’s DEIS, it’s explained that water will be consumed by retail, restaurant, office and other uses. The report states that the Suffolk County Sanitary Code allows up to 600 gallons per day, per acre for sanitary flow without sewage treatment. The total maximum sanitary flow for this project is calculated at 33,606 gallons per day.
That same figure is what is estimated to flow out of the site. But, in a letter to engineering firm Nelson, Pope & Voorhis in 2013, Robert Santoriello, superintendent of the Greenlawn Water District believes this to be a “significantly underestimated” figure.
“We are concerned that the proposed 17,700-square-foot restaurant and the 90,000-square-foot fitness center will, by themselves, use at least more than the estimated water quantity,” he wrote.
This figure is also what was used to calculate to potential nitrate impacts of the project.
According to the SONIR groundwater model produced by Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, the current estimated nitrogen concentration is 3.13 milligrams per liter. The EPA limit for nitrogen is 10 mg/l. According to the DEIS, the nitrogen concentration in recharge would be increased to 5.43 mg/l.
Though the code allows untreated water, the DEIS states that “the proposed action will utilize on-site septic systems to treat and recharge all wastewater generated.”
Besmertnik believes that the impact would still negatively impact the drinking water in the long run.
“We don’t just do things here because of what’s going to be good for the next year,” he said. “When you talk about water quality, you got to be thinking about 50 to 100 years into the future.”
A.J. Carter, spokesman for the Town of Huntington, said on Monday the Huntington Planning Board has not yet made a decision on whether or not to recommend a required change to the town’s comprehensive plan, necessary for the project to move forward, to the town board. Carter said a decision is expected to come down next month. Once that happens, the town board will take a look at the project.