Romulus waste incinerator suffers strategic blow

A proposed waste-to-energy incinerator for Romulus, Seneca County, suffered a major blow Wednesday when the NY Senate unanimously approved legislation banning such incinerators in the Finger Lakes, following a similar Assembly vote last week.

The Finger Lakes Community Preservation Act now goes to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for signing. He has spoken against this project in the past.

Legislation co-sponsor Sen. Pamela Helming, R-Canandaigua, said, “The fact that this legislation passed unanimously in both the Senate and the Assembly—with support from Republicans, Democrats, and legislators of a variety of interests and backgrounds—is a clear sign that garbage incinerators are not welcome in the Finger Lakes region. A garbage incinerator would devastate the surrounding communities and negatively impact our health and our environment.”

The project was proposed by Circular EnerG with the idea that it would create energy to support redevelopment of the former Seneca Army Depot, where the project would be sited, and for the surrounding area. The trash would come from a wide area, including New York City, just as trash going to nearby landfills in Waterloo and Geneva now does.

“The bill is a real step back for the environment,” said attorney Alan J. Knauf, who is representing the developer, and it would eliminate “the only feasible necessary upgrade to the power supply” for the depot.

“It would just encourage landfilling, which is the worst option for waste disposal.” Burning waste instead of fossil fuels conserves resources, results in little air pollution and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

Other waste disposal method can be more harmful to the environment, Knauf said.

“Landfilling causes far greater greenhouse gas emissions from methane, terrible odors, and dioxin emissions from uncontrolled burning of plastics. Recycling is a sham today, with plastics we thought were being recycled ending up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”

The company will continue to pursue the project, he said.

Opponents to the project issued statements urging Cuomo to sign the bill into law immediately, while repeating their assertions that the plant would be environmentally and economically detrimental to the area.

“The incinerator is not wanted in our town, and the impacts of such a facility would be devastating to the health of our residents and to our thriving agri-tourism based economy,” said David Kaiser, Town Supervisor of Romulus. He said investments and real estate sales have stalled in the area while the fate of the incinerator is being debated.

Helming said, “The fact that this legislation passed both houses of the State Legislature and now awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature is a moment of celebration for the entire Finger Lakes region and all those who believe in clean water, clean air, and a high quality of life for our children and families. The Governor has indicated that he opposes a garbage incinerator in the Finger Lakes region, and I look forward to him signing this into law.”

“The Finger Lakes has been Wine Country for over 150 years and is responsible today for over 75% of all the wine produced in New York,” added Mark Venuti, Town Supervisor of Geneva. “The Governor has recognized the region’s immense contribution and potential, and he joined us last year with his own statement opposing this misplaced project. I’m confident he will stand with us again and sign this bill into law.”

More than 500 businesses, environmental groups and organizations had opposed the project, according to the Seneca Lake Guardian organization. Joseph Campbell, President of Seneca Lake Guardian, said.  “A broad coalition of environmental groups, businesses and local and regional governments support this bill because the proposed incinerator would harm the environment and threaten the growing winery and tourism industries.”

According to Helming, the legislation would prohibit a trash incinerator if it:

  • Falls within the Oswego River/Finger Lakes watershed;
  • Is within 50 miles of a landfill or other solid waste management facility;
  • Is within 10 miles of a waterbody designated a priority by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

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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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Schumer joins opposition to trash-burning plant in Romulus

U.S. Sen Charles E. Schumer has joined the lengthy list of those opposed to building a trash-burning power plant at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, Seneca County.

Schumer announced his opposition Friday afternoon at the Ventosa Winery in Geneva, Ontario County, several miles from the proposed site.

“Simply put, this incinerator is wrong for the Finger Lakes and I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that this trash incinerator is snuffed out in its tracks,” said Schumer. “Not only would this incinerator spell disaster for the region’s economy, it would also have a negative impact on the environment. Even more, this plan could spoil the Finger Lakes’ natural beauty and put at risk the region’s hundreds of family vineyards, wineries, craft beverage and other businesses that contribute to tourism and support 60,000 local Finger Lakes jobs.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took a similar stance. Many local and regional officials have already gone on record as opposing the plant proposed by Circular EnerG. Proponents of the plant argue that using the power plant to dispose of waste instead of burying it untreated in landfills would actually be better for the environment.

Alan J. Knauf, an attorney for the project, has said that redevelopment of the former Army base has been stalled for lack of power.

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Cuomo takes issue with Romulus waste incineration plan

Following a rally in Albany denouncing a proposed waste incinerator in Romulus, Seneca County, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday criticized the project, too.

Cuomo called Circular EnerG’s plans to make power by transporting and burning municipal waste “simply not appropriate,” adding: “I’m confident that the Article 10 siting board will carefully consider these impacts and reject the project application if one is ever filed. If the legislature proposes other solutions, we will consider all options to protect against this proposal that is at odds with New York’s renewable energy plan and that threatens important natural resources, environmentally sensitive areas, and economic drivers in the Finger Lakes region.”

Alan J. Knauf, the Rochester attorney representing the project, said more environmental damage will be done by not burning waste in an environmentally controlled way. He also noted that waste-to-energy plants are considered renewable energy under the state’s energy law.

“Right now we’re sending our waste to landfills, creating terrible problems,” Knauf said, citing leaks, odors, methane production and spontaneous fires.  Knauf said the Circular EnerG project would produce 160,000 tons less carbon dioxide than if the same amount of waste was sent to landfills.

The proposal will continue, Knauf said, but could take years to resolve.

“Ultimately, it comes down to the siting board to make a proper determination. If they listen to people outside the process, it’s going to be something the courts will have to set aside,” Knauf said.

Redevelopment of the Seneca Army Depot, where the waste incinerator would be located, has been stalled because of lack of power in the area, on top of the former Army base being declared a federal Superfund site because of hazardous contamination of soils,” Knauf said.

“You need power and it doesn’t have the power.  This would provide the power and create 85 jobs,” he said.

Many local groups have opposed the project, including Cuomo’s opponent in the Democratic primary for governor, actress Cynthia Nixon.

Several state legislators, municipal officials and representatives of the wine industry held a press conference earlier Tuesday to call for Cuomo to take action and support legislation making it more difficult for the plant to be approved.

State Sen. Pam Helming said the project “will have a devastating impact on Romulus and the entire region. Allowing a proposed solid waste management facility disguised as a power plant to move forward under the Article X process is unfair to our local communities and existing businesses.”

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