Seneca Depot project gets attention
ROMULUS--The Rochester company that plans to build the state's largest waste incinerator at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus abruptly withdrew its application for a local permit Jan. 5, but it's not walking away from the controversial project.
As a result of the surprise move, the fate of Circular enerG LLC's proposed $365 million trash burner now rests with a state board that governs the placement of electric power plants.
The siting board operates under Article 10 of the state Public Service Law, which emphasizes public participation and environmental review.
Those issues were forum topics at the Romulus Central School auditorium Sunday afternoon, Jan. 7. Estimates included some 350 people attending. Many attending opposed plans to place an incinerator less than a mile from the school.
The keynote speaker, Paul Connett, predicted that a new toxic ash dump would have to accompany the Romulus plant, and he warned that local dairies and wineries would suffer from toxic air emissions.
"You could not have chosen a place in the United States that would put more dioxins in the food chain," Connett told the crowd.
Connett, a Cambridge graduate with a PhD in chemistry from Dartmouth, has successfully opposed dozens of incineration proposals worldwide since the 1980s. He urged forum attendees Sunday to get involved in the fight because, he said, public participation defeats incinerator proposals.
"I think in the end, you'll win," said Judith Enck, a former regional director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She said the fight in Romulus could become a springboard for a push to convince Gov. Andrew Cuomo to establish a state moratorium on new trash incinerators.
Circular enerG was formed early last year, and has not documented experience with waste disposal or energy generation. The company's attorney, Alan Knauf, has said it is "associated with" Flaum Development in Rochester, but he has declined to provide a full list of partners or investors.
Connett characterized Circular enerG as "front men who can promise anything because they don't expect to ever operate it."
He said if they do manage to secure the necessary permits to build, they will sell out -- most likely to Covanta, a New Jersey company that dominates the U.S. waste incineration market and owns or operates seven of New York state's 10 trash burning plants.
The proposed Romulus plant would burn up to 2,600 tons a day, most of it arriving from outside the Finger Lakes region by truck or train. It would eventually generate up to 50 megawatts of power.
In a Jan. 5 letter announcing the withdrawal of the special use permit that referred to the incinerator as a "renewable energy project," Knauf quoted one provision from Article 10 that implied local input would be given far less weight.
But Willard Burns, an environmental lawyer from Ovid, took issue at Sunday's forum.
"The (Knauf) letter tries to not-so-subtlety say, 'Your local laws are pre-empted by this Article 10.' But that's wrong," Burns told the crowd. "It's not pre-empted. There are provisions .... that do provide for the possibility of some pre-emption of the local laws. But I don't think they're going to apply in this case. The planning board is going to have a big role."
PETER MANTIUS is a Watkins Glen journalist who publishes a blog at https://waterfrontonline.blog.