By Sydney Shulman
Neighbors of Sunshine Children’s Home and Rehabilitation Center expressed serious concerns last week about the impacts the facility’s expansion project will have on their wells and are skeptical about the monitoring process.
A May 22 informational meeting at New Castle Town Hall focused on answering residents’ questions about the well monitoring system proposed by Sunshine Children’s Home. Many of the residents who live in this area are dependent on well water and believe an expanded Sunshine Children’s Home places their water volume at risk.
The expansion, which will increase the size of the facility at 15 Spring Valley Rd. from about 19,000 to 143,000 square feet and the number of beds from 54 to 122, was approved May 16 when the Zoning Board of Appeals granted Sunshine a special use permit.
Sunshine’s representatives, including their hydrogeologists, have proposed a well monitoring system where water levels of at least six wells within a 1,500-foot radius of Sunshine’s wells will be tested daily and submitted quarterly to the Town of New Castle and the Westchester Department of Health. Last week, Sunshine’s senior supervising hydrogeologist, Thomas Cusack, said the expanded facility will have little to no impact despite residents’ fears.
“The groundwater impacts from the new facility will actually be similar or less than the existing facility,” Cusack said.
A May 15 letter from Cusack to New Castle Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull stated that nine property owners had been contacted for monitoring but only four had agreed to have their wells monitored.
The monitoring, which is one of a series of conditions Sunshine must comply with in their special use permit, will begin six months before construction and continue for at least two years after the project’s completion. If the results prove inconclusive, the town can direct Sunshine to extend the monitoring period, Hull said.
Should monitoring show that residents’ wells yield less water than current levels, Sunshine is required to find a remedy, she said.
Residents who attended last week’s meeting voiced concern how the expansion might affect water supplies in the area.
“My main concerns are potable water for the children as well as fire suppression,” said Glendale Road resident Cynthia Manocherian. “If there is an emergency, and no water on site, what are we supposed to do?”
The Sunshine Home is allotted 12,000 gallons of water per day or about 99 gallons per bed. Should Sunshine exceed this limit, they can be fined and/or their Certificate of Occupancy can be revoked.
But residents were distrustful of the monitoring because the water operators will be hired by Sunshine. Project opponent David Whitlinger, another area resident, said there is also no quantifiable standard to determine what would be acceptable results.
“This is designed to be as ambiguous as possible so they can skate away,” he said. “They don’t discuss what’s a positive outcome or a negative outcome so nobody knows.”
Andrew Stolorow, an attorney representing about eight area property owners who have opposed the expansion and had filed an Article 78 in state Supreme Court, said there are too many questions and few answers.
“A large issue with the applicant is the total lack of transparency regarding the monitoring process. They’re not even telling the public where the monitored wells will be located,” Stolorow said. “This process has been started too late. They should have been monitoring the wells before they said there will be no impact.”
Residents are concerned about the mitigation efforts that Sunshine has proposed if the project negatively impacts neighboring wells. Sunshine has promised to remedy any impact by paying for the costs of drilling a deeper well of any property owner who is affected.
However, there is the risk of elevated levels of radium the deeper a well is drilled, Manocherian said.
“They’re looking for more water, there’s no questions, and they have presented to the Zoning Board and the Planning Board they have all the water they need,” she said.
Residents were also upset at what they described as inadequate notice of the meeting. One resident stated she only learned of the meeting through Facebook.
A page on the town’s website may be established in the near future with updates on the monitoring process.
Martin Wilbur contributed to this article.