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Incinerator deserves reasoned evaluation

A fight is brewing between Rochester-based Circular enerG LLC, which wants to build a massive trash incinerator between Cayuga and Seneca lakes, and Finger Lakes wineries and residents.

Both sides are claiming the environmental high ground, and both have legitimate points.

Circular enerG LLC claims that the incinerator, which would be located at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, would create clean energy by burning trash that otherwise would end up in a landfill. Studies support those claims, showing that waste-to-energy incinerators can reduce a community’s landfill volume by up to 90 percent and prevent release of tons of carbon dioxide while also generating electricity for nearby households and businesses.

Finger Lakes winery owners and residents say the incinerator would harm the environment and the Finger Lakes region’s tourism efforts. Nancy Irelan, co-owner of Red Tail Ridge Winery in Penn Yan, called the project “an abomination on our landscape.”

“Burning trash is not a renewable energy source,” she said.

While the project’s opponents have legitimate complaints about the incinerator’s impact on their landscape and the effect trash trucks could have on their roads, dismissing waste-to-energy as a viable renewable energy source is not productive and smacks of intransigence and a willingness to say anything to achieve the desired result.

“It’s surprising that people who call themselves environmentalists can be against something that’s so positive,” said Alan Knauf, an attorney for Circular enerG LLC.

It is a simple fact that we produce way too much trash. If waste-to-energy incinerators are capable of reducing the amount of trash in landfills while also producing energy, then they are worth seriously exploring.

It is, of course, possible that the facility’s negative impacts on the Finger Lakes region would outweigh its positive results. That is something for the state Siting Board to determine as it considers all of the environmental, health, tourism and energy factors involved.

The project deserves a reasoned and science-based evaluation that acknowledges the positives and negatives and weighs them against each other.

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