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Waste-to-energy project fights back with lawsuit

The proponents of a waste-to-energy plant that would be built on the site of the former Seneca Army Depot have filed suit against the Town of Romulus and its Zoning Board of Appeals for trying to block the project.

Also named was Alan Kiehle, who had filed the appeal that the zoning board granted.

The lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court in Seneca County on Tuesday, says the board acted improperly when it granted Kiehle’s appeal to a town official’s decision to allow the project to move forward.

The suit charges that the board never should have considered the appeal because it was filed well after the 60-day period allowed and by someone who has no standing because he lives four miles from the proposed site and not on any of the roads that would be used to truck in waste or near rail lines that potentially could be used.

In addition, it charges that the town appointed new members of the zoning board, including one person who had spoken against the project at a public hearing, in reaction to local concern.

“Although the town leaders we met with (early on) were very favorable, some people complained, and they changed their tune,” said Alan J. Knauf, an environmental attorney who represents the project.

The suit also alleges that the zoning board discussed and made its decision on Kiehle’s appeal outside of public meetings, which is against the law.

A call to town officials for comment was not immediately returned.

One point of contention is whether waste plants are considered a renewable energy source. The town zoning enforcement officer originally interpreted town rules to say they are, but the zoning board disagreed. Knauf said both state and federal policies include waste plants under the umbrella of renewable sources.

The Circular EnerG plant has engendered unprecedented opposition from groups and individuals starting from local residents to, most recently, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer.

Knauf said opposition is based on outdated and misinformed ideas of waste plants. He has argued that with current standards, burning waste to make power is actually better for the environment than allowing waste to rot in landfills and cause methane — a gas that causes global warming — to be produced. He said dioxin emissions from landfills are orders of magnitude greater than from contemporary waste-burning plants.

“Somebody has to look at the science and not just jump on the bandwagon with uninformed people,” Knauf said.

Joseph Campbell, president of Seneca Lake Guardian, a group that has staunchly opposed the project, said in a statement Friday that Circular EnerG is trying to steamroll its opposition with the lawsuit.

We urge legislators to immediately pass legislation that would put control back in our region’s hands when deciding whether we want these kinds of facilities. We are looking forward to working with them to create a Finger Lakes that is free of incinerators that will do more harm than good.”

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