The Town of Smithtown is hoping to find a fertile concept for budding plans to build an organic waste processing facility, one that town officials hope might mitigate a potential Long Island trash crisis.
“We are looking in that direction as well as a number of other directions because there will come a point, not just in Smithtown but on Long Island, where municipalities are going to have to deal with solid waste once the Brookhaven landfill closes,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said.
“…[T]here will come a point, not just in Smithtown but on Long Island, where municipalities are going to have to deal with solid waste once the Brookhaven landfill closes.
— Ed Wehrheim
The town received $187,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency to undertake a study starting in 2015 on the impacts of indoor organic waste processing facilities, one that takes items like food waste and grass clippings and turns it into compost. Wehrheim said many Suffolk County municipalities are creating contingency plans should the Town of Brookhaven’s plans to close its landfill come to fruition. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has said it could close in less than a decade.
Suffern-based SCS Engineers partnered with Smithtown officials to release the draft study Sept. 13 with the intention to draft a zoning ordinance that would allow for its construction. Town code does not currently allow for any composting or organic waste facility.
“This is a scoping meeting to look at all the aspects of it and, at some point, the town board will make a decision whether or not we want to have the use of a facility like that put into the town code,” Wehrheim said. “We’re just trying to get out in front of it now so that eight or nine years down the road we will have a remedy for it to take care of our solid waste.”
Wehrheim said one location the town is considering using is Power Crush Inc. gravel supplier on Old Northport Road in Kings Park. The property’s owner, Toby Carlson, presentedthe town board with a conceptual plan for constructing such a facility in 2014.
The 280-page report suggests a number of sites for the plant. These include: the northwestern corner of Commack and southwestern corner of Kings Park, adjacent to Sunken Meadow State Parkway; the east side of Commack along Route 25/Jericho Turnpike; the southern side of Kings Park; and the southwestern corner of St. James.
There are a number of potential environmental and quality-of-life hazards stemming from indoor organic waste processing facilities, according to the draft study, including odor, groundwater impacts, air emissions, traffic and dust.
“These facilities are part of their particular community, they try to take the material that’s out there and recycle it into products that most of us use.”
— Gregory McCarron
In an internet-based survey of 28 facilities as part of the town’s study, half of the plants had received odor complaints, 11 percent noise complaints, 7 percent cited dust objections and 4 percent alleged traffic grievances. Yet, a nearly equal number of facilities said they had not received any such complaints from the local populace. Another 11 percent refused to provide any details about any complaints.
“All these facilities don’t want these problems, they don’t want unexpected events,” Gregory McCarron, the vice president of SCS Engineers, said. “These facilities are part of their particular community, they try to take the material that’s out there and recycle it into products that most of us use.”
To try to mitigate complaints and accidents, organic waste facilities have a number of management practices they employ. These may include building and maintaining vegetable buffers to allay dust issues or scheduling deliveries to lessen traffic issues.
Nearly half of the indoor organic waste processing facilities that responded to Smithtown’s survey said they use some type of air treatment system. In addition, 81 percent reported they have specific facility design-related methods to reduce odor.
“The [best management practices] are certainly effective in mitigating, at least to some extent, those impacts,” Allyson Murray, an environmental planner for Smithtown, said.
In the course of the study, Murray visited three organic waste processing facilities in North America. The most modern facility she visited was in Toronto, Canada, which operated as an anaerobic digester. Typical composting is aerobic, meaning it uses bacteria that require air to help break down the organic waste. Modern anaerobic composting uses airless containers in both wet and dry environments. Murray said she smelled very little odor on location and the noise was kept to a minimum.
“We always do things patchwork on Long Island. I think we need a more holistic approach.”
— Adrienne Esposito
“It’s a different kind of technology — the kinds of impacts are of a different kind,” Murray said.
Linda Henninger, the president of the Kings Park Civic Organization, attended a Sept. 13 meeting held at Smithtown Town Hall to inform local civic groups about the potential organic waste facility. She said that because the idea is still in its early stages she will keep Kings Park residents up to date on any potential hazards.
“Our mission is to look out for the people in our community,” Henninger said. “We’re continuing to educate ourselves on the issue.”
Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the environmental advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment, questioned why there are not larger conversations happening on the county or state level to determine just how many facilities Long Island requires and where would be the best location for one.
“In the next few years, every person on Long Island will have to know where our garbage goes,” she said. “We always do things patchwork on Long Island. I think we need a more holistic approach.”
Murray said the town plans to release the final version of the survey by the end of 2018.