Activists prepare for battle against proposed flx trash incinerator news ithaca.com electricity water hose analogy

Since a proposal to construct a trash incinerator in the former Seneca Army Depot was first made public in November, environmentalists in the region have been quickly organizing to prepare a public campaign against the facility which will arguably be among the biggest in the United States.

Located not even one mile from the proposed site, hundreds of local residents, environmentalists and community leaders packed the Romulus High School auditorium in a forum organized by a relatively new group called Seneca Guardian, an offshoot of established activist group Gas Free Seneca, to hear of the potential dangers trash incinerators present to the environment and to set to organize a massive opposition campaign to the facility. Present were owners of a number of local wineries, town planning officials and professor emeritus at St. Lawrence University Dr. Paul Connett, a renowned authority in environmental chemistry and trash incineration, who was there to present an overview of the environmental impacts of trash incineration and its byproducts.

The forum took place just days after the facility’s developer, Rochester-based firm Circular enerG, said it would be withdrawing its application for a special use permit from the town, leaving the plant’s approval up to state regulators in a move critics, including former Environmental Protection Agency Regional Director Judith Enck (who was in attendance), called a direct challenge to home rule, or the right for municipalities to set laws based on their community’s own interests. The Project, And Why It’s Controversial

Initially unveiled in late November, the trash incinerator – six times larger than one located on the southern outskirts of Syracuse, the nearest example of such a facility – would be sited on a 48 acre parcel of the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, located midway between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. Proposed designs call for the capacity to burn 2,640 tons of trash a day, which journalist Peter Mantius’ environmental blog , Waterfront Online, notes is about 45 percent of the limit allowed at a nearby landfill in Waterloo, Seneca Meadows Inc., which is presently set to close in 2025. More than 200 trucks hauling 1,300 tons (2,600 tons in 2023) of waste and ash are expected to shuttle in and out of the site each day and, eventually, rail service would be introduced at the facility, hauling 30 railcars of ash out of the facility each day on pre-existing train tracks running through the compound.

The facility, anticipated to break ground in 2019, is expected to generate 25 megawatts of power in its first year, eventually increasing to 50 megawatts by the time its processing capacity doubles in 2023. But the risks, many in the community argue, far outweigh the benefits of developing the nation’s second trash incinerator since 2015 : especially in as fragile an ecosystem as the Finger Lakes.

Though developers argue projected greenhouse gas savings of about 168,485 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year compared to landfilling, experts warn the contents of the emissions the facility and its 260-foot-tall smokestack will emit far outweigh any potential benefits and the economic development opportunities, self-defeating, if not totally disruptive. Enck, who in her role with the EPA was responsible for regulating New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and The Virgin Islands, said the proposal was like “something out of the 1980s” and that, in any sense, the proposal had no place in the community, especially sited approximately 3,200 feet from the local high school.

Armed with a Powerpoint presentation and years of experience on the topic, Connett presented a comprehensive picture of the impacts such waste incinerators can have on the environment, from their impacts on the local economy to the potential fallout such facilities can have on the region’s agriculture. He said the impotus for the proposal comes from the predatory nature of the energy industry, which he said looks for communities they see as poor, economically deprived and too inattentive to engage, and seeks to build facilities not to solve their waste problems but to “exploit the planet and our environmental resources for their own personal economic gain.”

Hundreds of companies have done similar things, Connett said, with anonymous companies like Circular enerG (which has mysterious business ties beyond sharing an address with a Rochester development firm with no experience in the energy sector) serving as a front to eventually sell a facility to a larger, known company with experience in running facilities such as these.

The incinerator, which as proposed will be the largest in New York State and among the largest in the country, he said, is anticipated to generate 800 tons of toxic ash per day while withdrawing approximately 445,000 gallons of water per day from Seneca Lake. Used water, according to the proposals, will be dumped into Reeder Creek – already designated as a threatened waterway by the EPA, due to its high phosphorus levels.

At a table outside the auditorium, yard signs railing against the project were available for a $5 donation; buttons, a dollar a pop. The proceeds, organizers said, would be to help finance the organization of numerous community outreach forums and a deluge of advertising in order to spread awareness about the project and elevate community engagement, which Enck told those in attendance is the primary way to negotiate unwanted projects in one’s backyard.

First, she said, citizens should get informed on the issues and do their own research, after which residents should continue to show up to meetings, make their voices heard, talk to neighbors, get active on social media and call their elected officials on the topic as often as possible. But those officials will have an uphill battle themselves.

The main concern, right now, is Circular enerG’s withdrawal from the town’s special use permit application process, instead invoking Article 10 of Public Service Law, which provides for the siting review of major electric generating facilities in New York State by the Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (Siting Board) in a “unified proceeding,” rather than dealing with numerous entities as the project originally would have. This is an issue in Romulus as such a rule would be a direct challenge to a measure in Romulus Zoning Law that would mandate such a plan to undergo site plan review.