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Source: Newsday

Diocese seeks court help in getting cemetery permits


Posted: December 1, 2009
Originally Published: November 30, 2009

After more than 14 years of trying to turn a 97-acre parcel of Old Westbury land into a cemetery, the Diocese of Rockville Centre went to court Monday seeking to force the village to issue permits, while environmental groups continue to complain the proposed graveyard would pollute groundwater with toxins such as embalming fluid.

The diocese purchased the property, a former horse farm, hoping to turn it into an extension of Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, which it says is near capacity. The historic land near the intersection of Jericho Turnpike and Powells Lane is one of two groundwater protection areas in Nassau. Such a site is largely undeveloped land where water percolates down to recharge the deep aquifers that provide Long Island's drinking water.

Diocese spokesman Sean Dolan would not publicly address the environmental complaints, citing the pending litigation. But he said groundwater testing at Holy Rood found no formaldehyde.

"The new cemetery is going to use the leading, best practices in terms of safety and care of the environment," he said.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Protection Act, which seeks to protect religious groups from discrimination by local zoning boards and municipalities.

Mayor Fred J. Carillo said he received a copy but hadn't read the suit yesterday. Any delay, he said, was on the part of consultants for the diocese, who have been reluctant to provide information, such as nitrate levels from fertilizer. Carillo said the diocese has also changed attorneys four times.

Village attorney Kenneth Auerbach said tests at Holy Rood about two miles away showed elevated nitrate levels in the ground. He said the village is still looking for more information from the diocese about the level of nitrate and "get an idea of the degree of the problem."

Dolan said there was "slight elevation in the nitrate in one particular area, believed to be due to fertilizer."

Environmentalists, meanwhile, continue to argue against the diocese's plan. "I think it's extremely alarming that the church won't work with environmentalists," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale. "You can't just take care of people when they die. You need to take care of people when they're living."