WHAT RADIOACTIVITY? Hakes Landfill Wants More Fracking Waste Imports

The state Department of Environmental Conservation this week formally invited oral and written comments on the proposed expansion of a Steuben County landfill that imports fracking waste from gas drilling operations in Pennsylvania.READYHakespdf
It’s a safe bet that any public responses that touch on health risks due to radioactivity will be officially logged in and then totally disregarded.C & D Hakes Landfill - Google Maps
That will clear the way, previous commenters have argued, for the Hakes Landfill to continue to operate as a de facto radioactive waste dump seven miles northwest of Corning.
The DEC has already made up (or closed) its mind on the question of whether allowed Marcellus Shale fracking wastes might be dangerously radioactive: They’re not. The agency’s reasoning is spelled out in a September 2015 policy memo that opponents of fracking waste imports uncovered by a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.
In August, the DEC doubled down. The agency approved a scoping document prepared by Hakes C&D Disposal Inc. that excluded radioactivity as a reviewable issue in a draft supplemental environmental impact statement, or DSEIS, the company prepared for its proposed expansion from 57.9 acres to 80 acres.READYDrillcuttingspdf
“Drill cuttings are screened prior to disposal and must pass through radiation detectors,” the DEC-approved scoping document said. “No drill cuttings loads have triggered radiation detectors. The disposal in the landfill is safe and environmentally sound.”
That’s the landfill’s stance, and the DEC is buying it despite glaring scientific shortcomings that have inspired howls of protest and a lawsuit.
The landfill’s scoping document acknowledges that the majority of previous comments “assert that radioactivity will not be managed properly and that the wastes being received at the Hakes Landfill should be characterized as radioactive waste, not solid waste.”
The document then brushes off those concerns, saying: “These questions have been raised and previously addressed in a statewide manner by the established program policy on drill cuttings (as spelled out in the Sept. 18, 2015 DEC memo).”
That’s the background behind the DEC’s Jan. 10 announcement that it had accepted the Hakes DSEIS and would entertain oral comments on it on Feb. 13 at the Campbell American Legion Post 1279 in Campbell (8458 County Route 333). It will also accept written comments postmarked by Feb. 26.READYRachelpdf
In November, the Sierra Club and others filed suit against the DEC and the landfill for “improperly excluding radioactivity issues from the analysis of environmental impacts” of the proposed Hakes expansion, in violation of the State Environmental Quality Review Act. The petition, filed in the Supreme Court of Steuben County by attorneys Rachel Treichler of Hammondsport and Richard Lippes of Buffalo, seeks to have the company’s DEC-approved scoping document annulled.READYLippespdf
The September 2015 DEC policy memo that serves as the basis for excluding radioactive issues from the Hakes DSEIS was maintained in virtual secrecy, the lawsuit alleges.
The memo “was adopted without public input or comment and is not posted on the DEC website or otherwise made available to the public,” the lawsuit says. “Petitioners had to file FOIL requests to obtain the policy memorandum.”
The memo says drill cuttings from the Marcellus Shale “contain naturally occurring radioactive material, though the radioactivity is similar to background concentrations.”
Even so, the memo calls for radiation detectors at landfills that import Marcellus drilling waste, and it sets out standards for how landfills should operate them.
But the DEC fails to specify whether those detectors screen for alpha, beta or gamma radiation. It is a crucially important omission.READYLudlumpdf
The primary health threats from Marcellus drill cuttings are the cancer-causing alpha and beta emissions from radium and radon. The Hakes radiation detector, a Ludlum 375 series area monitoring system, is described in Ludlum company literature as a “gamma monitor.”
Gamma rays can penetrate the metal sides of waste delivery trucks, but the dangerous alpha and beta particles cannot. So they go undetected.
Alpha particle radiation can’t even penetrate skin. But when the particles are ingested or breathed in, they settle in the bones, lungs and other internal organs and cause cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, after cigarette smoking. Alpha particles from radon can become airborne in dust from landfills or seep into groundwater.
The scoping document stated that lab tests of leachate from the Hakes Landfill had not revealed elevated levels of radioactivity. But the Sierra Club lawsuit said the scoping document failed to address the the group’s reporting of Radium-226 levels as high as 180 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) in Hakes leachate.
(The U.S. EPA’s maximum allowable contamination level for Radium 226 and 228 combined is 5 pCi/L.)READYDEC
The lawsuit said the Hakes Landfill appears to be one of only three New York State landfills that continue to import fracking waste, based on data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP). The DEC doesn’t systematically track it.
The other two Southern Tier frack waste importers are the Chemung Landfill east of Elmira and the Hyland Landfill in Angelica, about 80 miles to the west.
Drawing from Hakes Landfill sources, the lawsuit says the proposed landfill expansion would add more than 2.5 million cubic yards of disposal capacity, enough to extend the life of the landfill by five to 10 years. The expansion would not alter the facility’s permitted disposal rate of 1,494 tons per day.
Hakes is authorized to accept drill cuttings from air and water-based drilling fluids. But it is prohibited from taking bulk drilling fluids, flowback water, filter sludge or cuttings from operations using oil-based drilling fluids.
However, PADEP records show Hakes took 332 barrels of liquid fracking waste from Pennsylvania between 2010 and 2017, the lawsuit says.
Imports of fracking waste from Pennsylvania have continued after New York’s 2014 ban on high-volume horizontal fracking, and they remain controversial.
On several occasions, state legislators have attempted to ban the fracking waste imports, but Republicans in the state Senate have successfully blocked those efforts.
In April 2014, the Senate Committee Environmental Conservation voted 7-6 along party lines to kill a bill to ban frack waste imports.READYO'MaraPdf
Sen. Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats) cast one of the deciding votes. The Hakes and Chemung landfills, which accept the vast majority of the state’s fracking waste imports, are located in his Senate district. Hakes is owned by Casella Waste Systems, which operates the Chemung facility.READYCasella
In January 2015, O’Mara was appointed chair of the Senate’s Environment Committee, which oversees the DEC. The DEC’s policy memo followed in September.
(I explored O’Mara’s role in the preserving New York’s fracking waste imports in a magazine-length story for DCBureau.org in 2016.)


Incinerator Permits to Be Decided by Electric Generation Siting Board

Circular enerG LLC Withdraws Application of Local Special Use Permit

The mysterious 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.EnckPDF
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 rigorous environmental review.
Those issues were hot topics at a forum at the Romulus Central School auditorium Sunday afternoon. Between 300 and 400 people attended, and most strongly 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.ConnettPDF
Connett has 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 it has no experience in 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 that 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.
Initially, Circular enerG appeared to be trying to sidestep the authority of the Article 10 panel, the Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment.KnaufPDFREADY
Knauf said late last year that he’d hoped that the Romulus Planning Board would act as lead regulatory agency on his client’s application and then grant it a special use permit as a “renewable energy producer.” He touted the project as an environmentally-friendly alternative to piling trash in landfills.
But on Dec. 20, the state Department of Environmental Conservation overruled the Romulus Planning Board by saying it intended to assume the lead agency role, unless the Department of Public Service asserted its authority under Article 10.
An executive summary Circular enerG released in November seemed to be written to discourage intervention by the siting board. It said the incinerator would initially generate “less than 25 megawatts” of electricity — the threshold level that triggers application of Article 10. It was only a second phase, due to begin operating in 2023 and boosting the plant’s generating capacity to 50 megawatts, that would trigger siting board involvement, according to the Circular enerG document.
State officials may have concluded that the project’s phases, as described, did not exempt it from siting board authority.
Knauf’s Jan. 5 letter announcing the withdrawal of the special use permit referred to the incinerator as a “renewable energy project” and quoted one provision from Article 10 that implied that local input would be given far less weight.BurnsPdf
But Willard Burns, an environmental lawyer from Ovid, took issue at Sunday’s forum.
“The (Knauf) letter tries to no-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.”
Burns also urged the Planning Board to promptly clear up a controversy related to letters and public notices that purported to declare that the proposed incinerator would be classified as “renewable energy production” under the town’s zoning laws.
Eight months before Circular enerG went public with its plans, Romulus Zoning Officer Adam Schrader wrote a letter to a Flaum Development official that stated that a so-called waste-to-energy project would be classified as “renewable energy production.”
The letter, dated March 16, 2017, to Michael Palumbo of Flaum Management, also stated that the zoning code’s prohibition against “noxious or injurious” use would not apply if the facility “substantially complies” with regulations.MorrellREADY
Romulus Town Attorney Patrick Morrell said he and Schrader prepared a public notice, dated May 10, 2017, announcing Schrader’s “interpretation” of “renewable energy production” under the town zoning code. Morrell said no member of the Town Board, the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Appeals were consulted in the published notice process.
Schrader sent Palumbo a second letter on his “interpretation” in August, followed by a second public notice in September.
Knauf has said the letters and the notices bind the town to the “renewable” designation, which may be useful in winning permit approvals.
But the state does not recognize waste incinerators as “renewable” energy producers, and several members of the Town Board and the Planning Board disagree with Schrader’s interpretation and believe he lacked authority to provide it officially.DavidKaiserREADY
“I feel like we’ve been duped,” Town Supervisor Dave Kaiser said Sunday, referring to the Schrader letters. Kaiser said he understood that neither Schrader nor Morrell drafted the letters that Schrader signed.
Asked whether Knauf was involved in drafting the letters, Kaiser said: “Absolutely.”
Another twist to the “renewable” designation controversy came late last month when it was revealed that Schrader sold a Romulus home roughly 3,000 feet from the site of the proposed incinerator and moved more than 30 miles south to Schuyler County.SchraderhomesREADY
Court records show he sold his Romulus property to Felix Flores for $96,000 on August 10. Two months earlier, records show, Schrader paid $305,000 for a four-bedroom home on more than 200 acres of land in Alpine.
Flores said Schrader did not mention before the sale closing that a waste incinerator project was in the works. Schrader has not returned phone calls to his cell phone.
The real estate agent who represented Flores in the home purchase in August, Sue Ellen Balluff, is a member of the Romulus Planning Board.
Balluff said in an interview Jan. 3 that she did not learn about the incinerator proposal until November. She said she has been adamantly opposed to the project.SueEllenREADY
She declined to say whether she believed Schrader had a legal obligation to inform Flores of the plan before selling him the property.
“If I had had an inkling, I would have been required to disclose and would have disclosed (to Flores),” Balluff said.
Burns, the attorney from Ovid, said he believed the Romulus Planning Board could largely defuse the Schrader letter controversy by simply writing a letter stating that Schrader lacked authority to provide a binding opinion on what constitutes renewable energy production.
Tom Bouchard, chairman of the Planning Board, said the panel would take up the issue when it meets in the school auditorium at 7 pm today.
“We’re going to talk about the letters,” Bouchard said Sunday. “We need to clarify.”
Knauf’s Jan. 5 letter stated that he planned to attend tonight’s meeting

Romulus Incinerator Plan Called a Grave Threat to Finger Lakes Dairy and Wine Industries

The dairy, wine and tourism industries of the Finger Lakes have good reason to fear toxic air pollutants if the state’s largest waste incinerator is built as planned in Romulus, a prominent industry critic warned this week.PaulConnettREADY
Mercury, lead and dioxins would spew from its 260-foot smokestack and settle on farms, vineyards and Seneca and Cayuga lakes, polluting local milk, wine and fish, said Paul Connett, a Cambridge-educated chemist who has successfully opposed dozens of proposed waste incinerators worldwide since the 1980s.
Milk from grazing cows would be particularly vulnerable to dioxins — potent, long-lasting carcinogens — while the lakes would act as giant catch basins for mercury that tends to accumulate in fish, he said.
“Dioxin monitoring in the U.S. is pathetic … They monitor one to three times a year, with advance notice,” Connett said in an interview Jan. 5. “It’s such a con trick played on the American public.”
To be effective, he said, regulation must include strict thresholds for toxic emissions, conscientious monitoring and consistent enforcement. While the U.S. falls far short, Europeans tend to be better. For example, in Germany and Belgium, where incinerators are widely used as an alternative to landfilling waste, continuous air sampling is required, he added.
Connett is scheduled to speak against the proposed Romulus plant at 3 pm Sunday, Jan. 7, at the Romulus Central School Auditorium. He said the project has both local and national implications.
“They’ve only built one new waste incinerator in the U.S. since 1997,” he said. “This project would breath new life into a dead industry.”ConnettQuoteREADY
Developers have proposed a $365 million waste incinerator at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus. The plan was unveiled in November by Circular enerG LLC, a Rochester company with no track record in waste disposal or energy generation.
The plant would burn up to 2,600 tons of trash a day — more than any of the state’s 10 existing trash incinerators — and produce up to 50 megawatts of electricity. Most of the trash would be delivered from outside the region by truck or train.
“This is a commercial venture which is going to bring into your community thousands of tons of waste from distant communities that are happy to pay,” Connett said. “Their willingness to pay a lot of money to get rid of that waste is the inverse image of what it’s doing to the value of your community.”
Alan Knauf, attorney for Circular enerG, has touted the project as an environmentally-friendly alternative to piling trash in landfills. He said true environmentalists should support it. The company has promised to strictly abide by all state and federal regulations.RomulusCrowdREADY
But those assurances haven’t satisfied opponents from around the Finger Lakes. Geneva’s town board has passed a resolution against the project, and Connett’s talk is sponsored by local chapters of the Sierra Club, Seneca Lake Guardian and the Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition, among others.
Turnout at Connett’s talk Sunday afternoon and at a public hearing before the Romulus Planning Board the following evening (at the same school auditorium at 7 pm, Jan. 8) may reflect the intensity of that opposition.
Judith Enck, a former regional director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with supervisory authority over New York and New Jersey, will introduce Connett Sunday.
Aside from his B.A. in Natural Sciences from Cambridge, Connett holds a PhD in Chemistry from Dartmouth. He lives in Binghamton, where he is chairman of the Fluoride Action Network, a group opposed to fluoridation of municipal water supplies.
In August 2016, Connett spoke against plans for a medical waste incinerator at a packed high school auditorium in New Milford, Pa., 25 miles south of Binghamton.
The project was called off last February.


Romulus Zoning Officer Sold Home 3,000 Feet From Proposed Incinerator Site

Felix Flores said he had no idea when he bought his Romulus home in August that plans were in the works to build the state’s largest waste incinerator roughly 3,000 feet away.FloresREADY
“I made my offer in June or July and paid almost full (asking) price,” Flores said in telephone interview Dec. 22. “It was a good location.”
Flores said he’d never met the seller, Adam Schrader, who didn’t attend the closing. Neither did Flores know that Schrader, the Town of Romulus zoning officer, had issued a controversial “interpretation” of local law months earlier that gave incinerator developers a chance to obtain a special use permit from the Romulus Planning Board.
In November, Circular enerG LLC went public with plans to seek such a permit to build a waste incinerator that would burn up to 2,640 tons of trash a day within the former Seneca Army Depot. It would feature at 260-foot smokestack and handle up to 238 trucks a day. Eventually, it could produce up to 50 megawatts of electricity.SchraderREADY
Schrader had helped set the stage eight months earlier.
On March 16, he wrote a letter to Earl Martin and Michael Palumbo (now an incinerator proponent) stating — in response to their question — that a “waste-to-energy” project at the former depot would be classified as “Renewable Energy Production” and that it would not violate a local provision banning “noxious or injurious” use if it complied with environmental regulations.
Schrader supplemented those interpretations in a second letter to Martin and Palumbo on August 28, and those interpretations were memorialized in published public notices in May and September.
Without the “renewable” designation, the proposal would not be eligible for the special use permit, and it would face the all-but-insurmountable obstacle of winning a series of variances to the town’s strict zoning code.
Schrader’s conclusions have come under heavy fire following Circular enerG’s unveiling of its intentions.
“That’s his (Schrader’s) interpretation,” William Karlsen, vice chair of the Romulus Planning Board, said in an interview Dec. 22. “I’m going to say that interpretation is not correct. The Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals will have their vote on that.”FloresHomeTimelineREADY
Two days earlier, Willard Burns, an attorney from nearby Ovid, urged the Romulus Town Board to flatly reject the incinerator proposal as a clear violation of several provisions in the local zoning code. The board deferred to the Romulus Planning Board, which is reviewing the special use permit application.
Burns argued that Schrader has no legal authority to rule on what is “renewable energy” under the local zoning code. His authority applies to enforcement, not interpretation, he added. It is the Zoning Board of Appeals that “shall clarify doubt as to the precise meaning of any word used in this law.”
But Alan Knauf, Circular enerG’s attorney, said the “renewable energy” question is settled. “The town’s already ruled on that,” Knauf said.
The public notices may have established that. They were prepared by Schrader and Patrick Morrell, the Romulus Town Attorney, without input from the Romulus Town Board, the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Appeals, Morrell said in an interview Dec. 22.
Asked whether Schrader’s interpretations were now binding on the town, Morrell said he had not yet decided.
By awarding “renewable energy” status to a proposed waste incinerator, Schrader did what the state of New York has long refused to do, notably in high profile cases in 2004 and 2011.
In 2011, Covanta, which owns or operates seven of the 10 waste incinerators in New York State, sought to have waste incinerators included in the state’s “Renewable Portfolio.” Environmental groups howled in protest and Covanta’s bid was denied.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation “(did) not take a position directly on the merits of Covanta’s petition” to win “renewable” status.
But it did provide detailed testimony on the significant air pollution created by waste incinerators in New York. For example, the DEC found that waste incinerators generated “up to 14 times more mercury than the coal plants when these two sources provide the same amount of electricity.” They also emit lead, dioxins and other potent carcinogens, the agency noted.
Burns, the Ovid lawyer, said Schrader’s conclusion that waste incinerators are not “noxious” is not supported by the plain meaning of the word.
“The Merriam Webster dictionary’s main definition of ‘noxious’ is ‘physically harmful or destructive to living beings,’ and it gives two examples: ‘noxious waste’ and ‘noxious fumes’,” Burns wrote in a Dec. 18 letter to the Romulus Town Board and Planning Board.FlaumSignREADY
Schrader could not be reached for comment at his office Friday. He did not respond to a voice message left on his personal cell phone.
Flores said Schrader did not disclose the prospect of a waste incinerator during sale negotiations this past summer. He said he was not happy about that omission. He said he and his wife planned to actively oppose Circular enerG’s waste incinerator bid.
Deed records show Flores paid $96,000 for his property August 10, providing Schrader a 60% gain on his 2012 purchase price of $60,000.
Records also show Schrader has moved to Alpine, about 35 miles south of Romulus.


DEC Asserts Authority Over Environmental Review of Romulus Incinerator Project

Town of Romulus Planning Board Overruled

State regulators are contesting a bid by officials in the Town of Romulus to seize the crucial “lead agency” role in analyzing a proposal to build the state’s largest trash incinerator at the former Seneca Army Depot because potential environmental impacts “are not primarily local.”SenecaArmyDepotREADY
The lead agency has legal authority to establish the scope of the environmental review given a project, including whether to allow or cut off public participation.
The $365-million Romulus project, proposed by a secretive LLC with no track record in waste incineration, has intense opposition in Romulus and across the region. The Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition has spoken against it, and the Geneva Town Board has passed a resolution in opposition.
Geneva’s action came after the Town of Romulus Planning Board stated Dec. 6 that it intended to assume the lead agency role under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQR. But it was effectively overruled Wednesday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.Unknown
In a Dec. 20 letter to Planning Board Chair Thomas Bouchard, the DEC’s Scott Sheeley wrote that the DEC planned to take the lead agency role — unless the state Public Service Commission asserts its right to oversee the project.
The PSC regulates electric power generation. If it steps in on the grounds that the incinerator plans to generate more than 25 megawatts of power, the project review would be exempt from SEQR, Sheeley said. If the PSC doesn’t step in, the DEC intends to take control, he added.
The Romulus Planning Board has until Jan. 20 to contest the DEC’s stance.
The plant, which would feature a 260-foot smokestack, would accept up to 2,640 tons of garbage a day. That’s nearly half the volume limit at the state’s largest landfill in Seneca Falls, 11 miles to the north.
Even before the Romulus Planning Board, the DEC and the PSC decide the jurisdictional question, the Town of Romulus could simply reject the project as a violation of its zoning laws, according to an attorney from nearby Ovid.KnaufPDFREADY
Willard R. Burns, the attorney, noted in a Dec. 18 letter to Romulus officials that Romulus zoning law prohibits:
— “The storage, processing or transloading of any waste materials, except for food processing or agricultural waste and marketable recyclable materials….
— “Open burning of rubbish, garbage, treated lumber or other materials causing noxious odors, residue or fumes.”
Burns told the Town Board Dec. 20 that it had no need to spend money on a lawyer or engineer to study the incinerator proposal. He said it could simply declare it an unacceptable zoning violation and kill the project.
Town Supervisor David Kaiser acknowledged that the explicit zoning language Burns cited was added in 2015 after the Cuomo Administration proposed the former Seneca Army Depot as a place to send refuse left behind by Hurricane Sandy.
But Kaiser said the Town Board was deferring to the Town Planning Board on Circular enerG LLC’s request for a special use permit for the trash incinerator.
Circular enerG, which is associated with Flaum Management in Rochester, has taken steps to neutralize potential snags created by the zoning law.SchraderREADY
In March, Michael Palumbo of Flaum Management obtained a letter from Town of Romulus Zoning Officer Adam Schrader stating the proposed incinerator would be classified under Romulus Zoning Law as “Renewable Energy Production.”
As a result of that classification, the Schrader letter stated, “the facility would be an allowed use if a special use permit was approved by the Romulus Planning Board.”
On Aug. 28, Schrader wrote a second letter to Palumbo and Earl Martin of Seneca Dairy Systems that added that the incinerator would not be prohibited under the zoning law as “noxious or injurious” so long as it complies with environmental regulations.
Burns argued to the Town Board Dec. 20 that Schrader lacked authority to issue those determinations. He said the zoning law assigns interpretation of the zoning law to the Zoning Board of Appeals, not the zoning officer.
Pat Morrell, attorney for the Town of Romulus, declined to say whether Schrader’s letters were binding. He said he would need to research the law.
But Alan Knauf, attorney for Circular enerG, said he doubted Schrader’s conclusion that the incinerator qualified as a “renewable energy” project could be seriously challenged. “It’s a strong claim,” Knauf said in a telephone interview Dec. 20. “It’s already been decided. The town’s already ruled on that.”
New York State does not recognize the energy generated from burning waste as “renewable” energy, despite lobbying efforts by the incinerator industry to have it qualify.OnondagaREADY
In 2011, Covanta asked the state to include so-called waste-to-energy plants in its Renewable Energy Portfolio. But environmental groups rose up in opposition and the effort failed.
Covanta owns or operates seven of the 10 waste incinerators in New York State. The company gave Knauf a tour of its plant in Niagara in November. At a Romulus Planning Board meeting Dec. 4, an official from a Covanta-operated incinerator in Onondaga County invited board members to tour its facility.DerethGlanceREADY
The invitation was issued by Dereth Glance, executive director the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, or, OCRRA, which owns the plant that Covanta operates. She did not return a phone call this morning to explain her interest in the Romulus proposal.
Knauf said he wasn’t aware that Covanta also operated the Onondaga facility.
When asked if Covanta might invest in or operate the Romulus plant, Knauf said: “We are not associated with Covanta, although you did make a good suggestion that they might be an operator. They’re not a sponsor of (Circular enerG’s) project.”

DEC, Cargill Sued Over Cayuga Salt Mine

Towns of Ithaca and Ulysses Among the Challengers of a Permit Allowing Construction of an Air Shaft in Lansing

Charging that drinking water drawn from Cayuga Lake is imperiled by the state’s lax oversight, the Town of Ithaca and other nearby municipalities have filed suit to challenge a permit allowing Cargill Inc. to expand its salt mining under the lake.
The Article 78 lawsuit, filed Dec. 13 in state Supreme Court of Tompkins County, names Cargill, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the state Office of General Services as defendants.
Other plaintiffs include the City of Ithaca, the Town of Ulysses and the Village of Union Springs, nine individuals and the group CLEAN, or KarenMapReadyCayuga Lake Environmental Action Now.
The suit asks the court to void a permit granted by the DEC in August that allows Cargill to dig an air shaft in Lansing that would connect to a tunnel linking to the main section of Cargill’s sprawling salt mine under the lake. The suit asks for an injunction blocking construction of the shaft.
In granting the permit, the DEC held that the so-called “Shaft No. 4” was an independent project that didn’t directly impact future mining and therefore did not require a full environmental impact statement.CargillMiningOperationsREADYT
The suit claims that Shaft 4 is an integral part of Cargill’s plan to continue mining operations northward under the lake “for an additional 30 years.” Plaintiffs allege that the one-mile tunnel was also part of that long-term plan, even though the DEC inaccurately advertised the tunnel project as unrelated to any future air shaft at its terminus.
In fact, the air shaft would be needed to meet federal mine safety rules that would apply to any significant sub-lake expansion of the mine in Cargill’s northern reserves. The state OGS is a named defendant because it leases sub-lake mineral rights to Cargill.
The suit claims that the DEC violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQR, when it separated the three projects — Shaft 4, the one-mile tunnel and mine expansion to the north — and used that separation to justify waiving a full environmental impact statement on any of them.
At stake in the case, the suit says, is “the ecological health of Cayuga Lake and the closely associated ecotourism in the entire Cayuga Lake region, as well as the health and drinking water supplies of its citizens.
CLEAN, which took the lead in developing the lawsuit and inviting municipalities to participate, said its scientific experts are concerned that the Cargill mine could flood. Those risks stem from either a potential breach while mining northern sections, where the bedrock separating the mine from the lake thins out, or from drilling Shaft 4 itself. Cargill said both those risks are under control.
The suit said any future flooding of the mine would likely worsen Cayuga’s existing problem of high salinity.InsidemineREADY
“Sodium levels in Cayuga Lake are more than twice as high as the level the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and health authorities recognize as hazardous for persons with hypertension,” the suit says.
“If there is a mine collapse, if the reaming of Shaft No. 4 leads to mine flooding, if the mine is intentionally flooded at decommissioning, if mine-related brine and salt dust releases into the lake continue and/or if mining-related subsidence perturbs any saline artesian aquifer under the lake, the existing salinity problems in Cayuga Lake may be exacerbated. Such outcomes would adversely affect those City of Ithaca residents who rely on lake water for their water supply.”
The suit says 96% of the residents in the Town of Ithaca get water from Cayuga, more than 19,000 people. Some Ulysses residents also use Cayuga for drinking water, while Union Springs residents do not.

The suit seeks judgment under Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Laws and Rules.
Shawn Wilczynski, manager of the Cargill Cayuga mine, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on the suit, although the company may not have been served with court papers yet. A spokesperson for the DEC said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

SHOW TIME! Calls Mount for End to Secrecy at Cargill’s Cayuga Salt Mine

The Cuomo Administration faces mounting pressure from activists, town boards and state legislators to fully apply state environmental law to Cargill’s giant salt mine under Cayuga Lake.
A legal showdown in court looks inevitable.CargillMiningOperationsREADYT
For decades, the state has allowed the nation’s largest private company to use its best judgement in conducting sub-lake mining operations. It has never required a full environmental impact statement for the seven-mile, 10,000-acre-plus project, and it has zealously kept details of the growing risks under lock and key.
In recent weeks, calls have intensified for details on the science behind the dangers involved — if not for a total ban on all salt mining under the lake.
The biggest concern is the rising risk of a catastrophic mine flood. As Cargill pushes north into sections where the bedrock buffer to the lake thins out, chances for a breach are seen as increasingly likely. Independent scientists say a mine flood could trigger a disastrous mix of super-salty brine from the mine with the lake itself, jeopardizing Cayuga’s status as a drinking water source for 31,000.KarenMapReady
Although the state has required the company to post a security deposit of $3.5 million, that would likely be a tiny fraction of the bill taxpayers would be stuck with if things got ugly and Cargill bolted. The state has never required a closure plan.
Since September, the towns of Ithaca, Ulysses, Trumansburg, Danby, Aurora, Caroline, and Union Springs have passed resolutions supporting a lawsuit aimed at forcing a full public airing of the geologic risks.
Meanwhile, State Assembly members Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) and Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) have called for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to halt all permitting for mining under the lake. They want all future salt mining to be conducted under dry land.
In two letters to the DEC earlier this Fall, the legislators raised the specter of the 1994 collapse of Retsof, the largest salt mine in North America, near Geneseo, where geologic forces are strikingly similar to those under Cayuga.
When the Retsof roof gave way, water from an aquifer rushed in. Land above the mine sank several feet, damaging houses, roads and bridges. Some private wells produced salt water or simply went dry.
The DEC has all but brushed off any Retsof parallels.
The state permit for Cargill’s Cayuga mine expired Nov. 1, but the DEC allows mining to continue. It’s all perfectly legal, the agency notes, because Cargill has applied for an extension.InsidemineREADY
The granting of that indefinite grace period is ironic, activists argue, in light of evidence the company has been violating the terms of the expired permit.
Emails between DEC officials confirm that Cargill ignored permit-required 1,000-foot setbacks from geological “anomalies” — sections too dangerous to mine.
In a Feb. 2, 2016 email, the DEC’s Simone Rodriguez asked the DEC’s Steve Army and Christopher Lucidi to confirm that an internal report showed Cargill had mined within 1,000 feet of the “Frontenac Point Anomaly.” That report indicated that “NW2 probably shouldn’t have been mined” because it violated “permit condition 9a,” she wrote.
“You are correct,” Army replied minutes later. “NW2 was advanced into the 1000’ setback, and yes, it is the same setback mentioned in the permit.”
Another email from Cargill mining engineer Dave Plumeau to the DEC’s Army and Lucidi explained that the company had switched to larger mine pillars out of concern about weakness in the roof. “This design provides better support for the overburden and creates lower stress changes within the strata above the mine,” Plumeau wrote on Nov. 4, 2016.
If Cargill has been violating setback requirements and changing pillar designs without first obtaining or even seeking permission from the DEC, then any state permit renewal must include a detailed environmental review, according to John Dennis, a member of the steering committee of the group CLEAN, or Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now.DennisREADY
Dennis laid out his argument in an Oct. 9 letter to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and the directors of DEC Regions 7 and 8, the jurisdictions that oversee the Cargill mine.
Any switch from “yielding pillar” mine design to “large pillar” design involves safety tradeoffs that are widely acknowledged within the industry, and it merits thorough analysis, Dennis wrote.
Setback violations aren’t trivial either, Dennis said. “The issue of whether DEC-mandated setbacks are binding requirements … or ‘recommendations’ that Cargill is free to ignore is another example of an issue that needs detailed review,” Dennis wrote.
If Cuomo’s environmental regulators ignore Dennis and rubber stamp Cargill’s mine permit renewal, CLEAN promises to sue to force a rigorous public environmental review.
The Town of Ulysses, which borders the lake and the mine on the west, supports CLEAN’s planned legal initiative.
In a resolution enacted Nov. 14, the town said the DEC must scrupulously follow the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQR, when considering permit renewal. So far, the risks to Cayuga Lake (and Ulysses’ drinking water) “have not been property reviewed and vetted under SEQR.”AnomaliesREADY

The Ulysses resolution expressed the town’s willingness to join a lawsuit that seeks to force the first draft environmental impact statement under SEQR rules since Cargill bought the mine in 1970.
But the DEC is under no deadline to resolve the mine permit renewal. It routinely allows companies to operate for years under expired permits, especially if a renewal threatens to open up a can of worms.
Far more pressing is the question of whether the DEC will be dragged to court to defend a controversial permitting victory it awarded Cargill in August. The deadline to sue in that case falls next week.
The permit allows Cargill to drill — without any special environmental review —an 14-foot wide air shaft in Lansing that connects to the northern end of the mine.
Under federal regulations, miners must be able to evacuate a mine within one hour. Cargill employees working 2,000 feet underground at the northern end of the mine are now almost an hour’s drive from the nearest air shaft. Cargill is bumping up against the federal time limit. The new air shaft, known as Shaft 4, would provide them a safety margin. It would also enable the company to expand mining to the north without tripping over the federal regulation.LiftonREADYEnglebrightREADY
In a July 13 letter, Lifton and Englebright, a geologist who chairs the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, explicitly warned DEC Commissioner Seggos not to grant the Shaft 4 permit because it would “directly or indirectly, lead to (further) salt mining under the lake.”
Seggos dismissed their concerns. In his written response to the legislators Oct. 17, he said the air shaft “does not immediately impact the mine or mining operations.”
Members of CLEAN contend that Cargill shrewdly laid the groundwork for the assertion that Shaft 4 has nothing to do with mining operations.READYSeggos
First, in 2015 it sought permission to mine a narrow, one-mile strip of 150 acres that links the main mine to the spot where Shaft 4 would be drilled. That application disavowed any connection to a future air shaft that might eventually be built at its terminus.
“All activities associated with this modification will take place underground, and there will be no additional surface development associated with this proposal,” the DEC’s April 2015 public notice stated. Two months later the DEC approved the expansion.LogoREADY
The following summer, when Cargill published plans for Shaft 4, it insisted that the air shaft project had nothing to do with mining operations.
That prompted Rob Mackenzie of Trumansburg to complain to the agency that the company had purposely separated the projects to sidestep an environmental review.
“The DEC and the public were badly misled by Cargill in its application to mine the 150 acres necessary to reach the subsurface location where Mine Shaft 4 is now located,” Mackenzie wrote in November 2016.
Meanwhile, CLEAN began to cite the conclusions of several independent geologists, including Raymond Vaughan of Buffalo and Richard Young of Geneseo, that mine flooding and lake salinization were real threats if Cargill’s mining continued its northward march under a gradually thinning mine roof. In fact, they argued, the drilling of the shaft itself might lead to dangerous mine flooding.
Both of those areas of concern are overblown, according to Lawrence M. Cathles III, a Cornell professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
In two lengthy and technical open letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo this past summer, Cathles said the DEC was perfectly justified in approving the Shaft 4 project without a special environmental review.
A website emblazoned with Cornell’s seal links to those open letters dismissing the risks cited by CLEAN, the towns and the state legislators. “Natural flow through Lake Cayuga and the slow nature of mine collapse means that flooding of the Cayuga mine does not pose a significant risk of lake salinification,” the website states.CathlesREADY
Cathles is no stranger to scientific debates with political overtones. At the height of the fracking debate in 2012, he skirmished for months with fellow Cornell scientists Robert Howarth and Tony Ingraffea (now retired) after ripping their landmark article on fugitive methane emissions from natural gas drilling. Cathles has also expressed skepticism about orthodox stances on climate change.
By publicly wading into the controversy over the Shaft 4 permit, Cathles lent intellectual heft to Cargill’s argument and provided Seggos political cover to grant the permit without an environmental review.
The company was pleased by Seggos’ decision, saying it enhanced ventilation and safety for its miners.WilczynskiREADY
“Cargill followed the rigorous environmental review process established by the DEC,” said Shawn Wilczynski, the mine’s manager. “We felt the DEC made the right decision based on science, the information compiled to support the permit issuance and the independent analysis completed that ensures the shaft poses no threat of significant environmental impact.”
But Walter Hang of Ithaca, a veteran environmental activist who has worked closely with Lifton and Englebright, expressed deep skepticism this week about the DEC’s ability to compel Cargill to mine safely under Cayuga.WalterHangREADY
Even CLEAN’s efforts to compel rigorous environmental review are probably in vain because they stop short of insisting on an outright ban on salt mining under the lake, Hang said. He’s gathered nearly 800 signatures on a letter calling for a ban on sub-lake mining.
At a CLEAN forum in June, Hang urged the group to get more overtly political.
“If you rely on the DEC to protect this lake, they’re just not going to do it,” said Hang, president of Toxics Targeting. “… We need a political campaign … the same kind of battle against Gov. Cuomo that won the fight against shale fracking.”
But Brian Eden said CLEAN has chosen a more nuanced approach of attempting to engage with Cargill.
Eden wonders what might happen if Cargill were to be forced to abruptly halt sub-lake mining and then determines it can’t make a profit from new mining under land nearby. That might leave the company with little incentive to hang around long enough to close the mine safely.


Mystery Company Wants State’s Largest Waste Incinerator Within 50 miles of State’s Three Largest Landfills

The company that plans to build the state’s largest trash incinerator in the heart of the Finger Lakes doesn’t see a need to prepare a full environmental impact statement for its $365 million project “because we are going to meet all the (permitting) standards,” its Rochester attorney said this week.ChurchillquoteREADY
The plant would burn trash arriving by truck or rail from near and far, much of it from New York City.
It’s setting in Romulus — midway between Lake Seneca and Lake Cayuga and only 12 miles south of the state’s largest landfill — has drawn opposition on multiple fronts.
Douglas Knipple, president of the Geneva-based Finger Lakes Zero Waste Coalition, an anti-landfill group, said it would be “ridiculous” to proceed with such a massive waste project without public involvement in a full EIS.
“The Finger Lakes is under siege,” Knipple said. “A region can either have agriculture, tourism, education and wine or gas pipelines, trains, trucks, monuments to waste and incinerators. You can’t have both.”TrainREADYs
In an interview Nov. 28, Alan Knauf, attorney for Circular enerG LLC, said “real environmentalists who aren’t just NIMBYs” should support his client’s incinerator plan. He touted the environmental advantages of burning trash rather than piling it in towering landfills that stink and produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Steve Churchill, chairman of the environmental committee of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, conceded his point, but added: “Incineration may be better technology than landfilling, so build it — but build it down near New York City where the waste is.”
Churchill’s committee voted 4-0 this week for a law banning new waste facilities such as the incinerator in Seneca County. But even if the full county board were to pass the law, the town of Romulus could override it. Still, the committee’s action reflects local resistance to the mysteriously-backed project.
Knauf declined to name the players behind Circular enerG, which was formed in January and has no track record. And he said it was too early to say who might build or operate the facility. Costich Engineering in Rochester and Daigler Engineering in Buffalo have been involved in the early stages.KnaufPDFREADY
Knauf said his initial goal to file Circular enerG’s applications for state permits by yearend was probably too optimistic, given the complexity of air quality issues.
Meanwhile, the Town of Romulus Planning Board is scheduled to consider a special permit for the project at a meeting on Monday, Dec. 4 (7p.m. at the Romulus Firehouse 2010 Cayuga St. Romulus).
The plant and its 260-foot smokestack would be built on a 48-acre tract at the former Seneca Army Depot. Knauf said the site is owned by Seneca Depot LLC, which shares a Rochester address with Circular enerG, Rochester developer David M. Flaum and Top Capital of New York.
Flaum is “a partner in Seneca Depot LLC,” and therefore “the landlord or the seller,” Knauf added.
Circular enerG’s incorporation papers don’t list owners, directors or investors. Knauf said the company is “affiliated with” Top Capital, though not a subsidiary. “The companies have a couple of principals in common,” Knauf said, declining to elaborate.
Top Capital’s founder, Zheng “Gene” Zhou, said in a press release in July that he and his business partners were “investing more than $200M in a ‘circular economy’ project that will create energy from trash …”GeneZhouREADY
The contact spokesperson for Zhou on that release, Jamie Frumusa, did not respond to emailed questions about the Romulus project or about Top Capital’s reported use of a controversial “golden visa” program to raise investment capital.
Under that federal EB-5 program, foreigners can obtain visas in exchange for investing $500,000-$1 million in projects that create U.S. jobs. Almost 90% of “golden visa” investors are from China, as is Zhou, a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In January 2016 press release, Top Capital had touted its plans to draw on EB-5 investments and said it had used them in financing its Heritage Square assisted living complex in Brockport.EB-5READY
But early this year, Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-Cal.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced legislation to kill the 27-year-old program.
“The EB-5 program has been rife with fraud and national security weaknesses,” Grassley said. “It has also strayed from Congress’ original intent to spur economic development in rural and depressed areas.”
Asked if EB-5 investments could be used to help fund the Romulus incinerator, Knauf said: “There is no way. They would not be doing that.”
The Romulus facility would be designed to burn up to 2,640 tons of trash a day, or nearly half the limit allowed at the state’s largest landfill, Seneca Meadows Inc., 12 miles to the north, between Waterloo and Seneca Falls. (The state’s second and third largest landfills, High Acres in Fairport and the Ontario County in Stanley, are also within 50 miles of Romulus).
An executive summary produced by Circular enerG says that as many as 176 waste-hauling trucks would arrive at the incinerator each day, along with 62 other trucks carrying ash, scrap metals and other materials. If rail service to the plant is arranged as planned, up to 30 railcars a day would greatly reduce that truck traffic.
The executive summary’s analysis of the project’s greenhouse gas effects assumes “an average distance of 254 miles” between the source of the trash and the Romulus incinerator. That’s the distance to New York City.NYS10incineratorsREADY
New York State already has 10 waste-burning incinerators, including seven that are owned or operated by Covanta, a publicly-traded waste company based in Morristown, N.J., according to a February report from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and a list complied by Harvard University.
Four of Covanta’s New York plants are located on Long Island, including the largest: Covanta Hempstead in Westbury. That plant has 82 employees and is designed to accept 2,505 tons of trash per day. It has three boilers and produces up to 72 megawatts of power.
The Romulus plant would have a slightly larger trash-burning capacity and roughly the same number of employees. It would run four boilers and produce up to 50 megawatts of power.
The state’s other nine waste incinerators have waste capacities ranging from 200 tons per day in Oswego to 2,250 tons daily in both Peekskill and Niagara Falls. They generate between 4 and 60 megawatts of power and employ between 28 and 87 employees.
Proponents of waste-to-energy technology argue that the U.S. lags far behind Europe and Japan in reducing landfilling through recycling and waste incineration.
For example, the five European nations with the highest recycling rates (Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Sweden) are among the biggest fans of waste incineration, according to a 2013 report in Ensia, a non-profit magazine that reports on worldwide environmental issues.EUWasteIncinerationREADY
In fact, that study said the 27 countries in the European Union burn 22% of their total waste while sending 38% to landfills. It said the U.S. burns only 7% while sending 69% to landfills. The most extreme European case, Sweden, burns 49% of its waste, recycles 50% and sends only 1% to landfills.
The Ensia report scolds U.S. environmental groups for stifling development of waste incineration and — by default — encouraging landfilling.
For at least the past six years, Covanta has been lobbying — unsuccessfully, so far —to have its so-called “waste-to-energy” plants included within the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio now made up primarily of wind, solar and hydro. Eligibility on the renewables list could open up opportunities for the refuse incinerators to win special subsidies. But environmental groups have protested Covanta’s push, arguing that waste-to-energy plants pollute the air and including them would suck incentive funding away from more traditional renewables.Covanta70%READY
Like Covanta, Circular enerG has gone out of its way to stress its potential green attributes, at least compared to landfilling trash.
“The facility will improve environmental quality and reduce the carbon footprint from waste generation,” the company says in its executive summary. “…This will result in a savings of about 168,485 tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent compared to landfilling.”
Circular enerG said the Town of Romulus, population 4,316, “has already determined that a waste-to-energy facility constitutes “renewable energy production.” It said it hopes to negotiate a host agreement with the town before yearend.
Knauf said his client would prefer to see the town act as lead regulatory agency for the project instead of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Whoever takes the lead — the town or the DEC — will decide whether to require a full environmental impact statement with public hearings and comments.
The alternative favored by Circular enerG would be a less rigorous environmental assessment process that requires little or no public input. That “perfunctory” process is unsatisfactory because it would squelch concerns of the wine industry in particular on regional truck and train traffic as well as air pollution, Knipple said.
Several major waste incinerators around the country have stirred controversy over air quality.
For example, a Wheelabrator facility in Baltimore, which features a 315-foot smokestack emblazoned with the city’s name just off Interstate 95, reportedly has been a major emitter of smog-producing nitrogen oxide.
“They produce more NOx than coal-fired plants for the amount of energy generated,” a lawyer for the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington told the Baltimore Sun newspaper.
Another group based in Berkeley, Calif., the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, blasted incinerator subsidies in its 2011 report “Burning Public Money for Dirty Energy: Misdirected Subsidies for ‘Waste-to-Energy’ Incinerators.”
In New York, Covanta Hemstead was cited in a March 2017 report by the State Comptroller as the state’s fifth largest recipient of net tax exemptions from local Industrial Development Authorities in 2015.CovantaHemsteadREADY
The report showed that the $296 million Covanta project obtained $15.8 million in tax exemptions that year, with no offsetting payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs). That represented 2.3% of the total $694.7 million in IDA-awarded tax breaks to 4,484 projects statewide in 2015.
Meanwhile, a DEC air quality permit review report from July 2016 described Covanta Hemstead’s ozone release performance as “severe non-attainment.”
Four of New York’s 10 other active trash incinerators have been operating with expired air quality permits, according to the February 2017 DEC list.


Giant Waste Incinerator Project Planned for Former Seneca Army Depot

A major municipal waste-to-energy incineration complex has been proposed for a 48-acre site at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus about 10 miles southeast of Geneva.ComparableREADY
The facility would be designed to burn 2,640 tons of trash a day — about 45% of the limit allowed at nearby Seneca Meadows Inc., the state’s largest landfill, which is now slated to close in 2025.
As many as 176 waste-hauling trucks would arrive per day, as well as 62 other trucks hauling ash, scrap metal and other materials.
If rail service begins as planned, up to 30 railcars a day could significantly cut those truck deliveries. Finger Lakes Railway already has tracks reaching into the Seneca Army Depot property.FingerLakesREADY
Developers tout the project’s relatively low carbon footprint, projecting greenhouse gas savings of about 168,485 tons per year (of carbon dioxide equivalent) compared to landfilling an equivalent amount of waste.
But those developers are staying the shadows.
The proposal comes from a mystery limited liability company called Circular enerG, which was formed in January, according to state corporation records.
State records don’t disclose Circular enerG’s officers, directors, owners or funding sources, but they do list an address in Rochester.DavidFlaumREADY
That address is shared by Flaum Management Co., which is owned by David M. Flaum, a wealthy Rochester developer and voting trustee at Syracuse University who has also pursued upstate casino projects.
Also sharing that Rochester address with Flaum’s development company is Seneca Depot LLC, which reportedly owns 900 acres of the 10,000-acre former Seneca Army Depot tract. Seneca Depot LLC is shown on a map of the proposed waste-to-energy facility site near the corner of Fayette and East Kendaia roads in Romulus.
The first phase of the project is due to begin in December 2019, but it is subject to local, state and federal permits. When that phase is completed 2021, the facility can begin accepting an average of about 1,320 tons of municipal waste a day, while also generating 25 megawatts of electric power.
By December 2023, the waste load is due to increase to 2,640 tons per day, and generation capacity could climb to 50 megawatts.
The facility will have four waste heat boilers and four moving grate furnaces. It will require a 44,000-cubic-yard waste bunker and a leachate collection pit.
It’s unloading platform and feeding hoppers will accommodate trailers hauling 20-30 tons of refuse each.SiteMapREADY
The plant will have a 260 foot stack and a water tank with a capacity of 475,000 gallons. A special permit will be needed to allow for discharges into Reeder Creek, which the state has already designated as an “impaired” waterway due to its very high phosphorus readings (suspected of being caused by leaching of old munitions).
Developers will also need a special use permit, a host agreement and other approvals from the Town of Romulus. The state Department of Environmental Conservation will need to provide a solid waste management permit, a water withdrawal permit, and other clearances. A federal Title V Clean Air Act permit will also be required.
The DEC must decide whether to take the role of lead regulatory agency on the project or to allow that duty to fall to the Town of Romulus. That choice matters because the lead agency decides whether to require or waive a full environmental impact statement for a project.
An EIS includes significant public disclosure and input and often tends to delay projects. Generally, developers prefer local governments to take the lead because they are far more likely to skip the EIS.
But the DEC may insist on taking the lead and ordering an EIS in recognition of the project’s potential impact well beyond Romulus. The truck and rail traffic, water discharges and air emissions could be seen as a negatives for the influential wine and tourism industries on the east side of Seneca Lake.JoeCampbellReady

“We are outraged that yet another assault on the Finger Lakes has arisen,” said Joseph Campbell, co-founder of Gas Free Seneca, a group that rallied business against a plan to store liquefied propane gas in salt caverns at the southern end of Seneca Lake.
“Residents, businesses and property owners on both ends and on both sides of the lake could be watching trash trains go by,” Campbell added. “This is not compatible with the wine and tourist industry’s vision, which is the economic engine of the area. The region has banded together to fight other ill-conceived projects in the past, and we will oppose this plan with equal fervor.”

The project is located in an area restricted by deed to commercial and industrial uses. The site is within an area where paint was allegedly disposed of, where contaminated soil was removed and where groundwater monitoring continues.
Developers say they want to turn these contaminated lands into a beneficial use.


DEC Ignores Warnings on Toxic Blooms

Hot Water Spewed By Power Plants May Fuel HABs, Expert Says

Scientists widely agree that warm water is a key fuel for toxic cyanobacteria, the super-dangerous algae look-alike.
But even after the most intense season of cyanobacteria outbreaks ever recorded in the Finger Lakes, there’s no consensus on what to do about the electric power plants that dump hundreds of millions of gallons of hot water a day into lakes stricken this September.BoyerREADY
— Seneca Lake must absorb up to 190 million gallons a day at temperatures up to 108 degrees from Greenidge Generation in Dresden.
— Cayuga Lake has to receive up to 243 million gallons a day of heated water from AES Cayuga north of Lansing.
— Lake Ontario must accept well over a billion gallons a day of hot water from a combination of three New York nuclear plants operated by Exelon Corp. — FitzPatrick and Nine Mile near Oswego and RE Ginna near Rochester.
Any of the five power plants could reduce their discharges by 15-20 times if they adopted the “best technology available” for power plant condenser cooling,
as described a state policy memo published in 2011.
But their antiquated, water-wasting “once-through” cooling systems are grandfathered. Requiring conversions to “closed-cycle” systems that recirculate cooling water would be a political challenge that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has shown no interest in tackling.HABSsignREADY
The will to act might be stronger if the science were more clear. Experts are still puzzled about the way several factors interact to trigger cyanobacteria outbreaks, which the DEC refers to as harmful algal blooms, or HABs.
Water temperature matters, but simply warming lake water doesn’t automatically cause a bloom. Other factors, including nutrient-rich water (with ample phosphorus and nitrogen), sunlight and calm conditions are at least as important. They all seem to work in complex, dimly-understood combination.
But enough is known that biochemist Gregory Boyer of SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, perhaps the region’s leading HABs expert, warned in a sworn affidavit in January against starting up the Greenidge power plant with once-though cooling, writing:GreenidgeREADY
“Increasing water temperatures in the Dresden bay area of Seneca Lake could result in increased HABs outbreaks in that area and … this issue deserves further study before (starting the plant).”
In court, the DEC fought to have Boyer’s affidavit “excluded” and to block efforts to require a full environmental impact statement for the Greenidge plant.
Together, the plant and the agency won a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and others seeking to force an EIS, and Greenidge was allowed to start up in the Spring.
HABs were first reported on Seneca Lake in 2015, and a few returned in 2016, including one near Dresden. This year all was calm on the HABs front until Sept. 14, when all hell began to break lose.HABsChronoREADY
During the following two weeks — characterized by unseasonably warm air temperatures (which warmed the lake water) — dozens of suspected blooms were reported across Seneca, particularly in the lake’s shallower north end.
Laboratory tests showed that at least two dozen Seneca sites had cyanobacteria with high levels of toxins, usually microcystins. The five sites with the highest toxins were all 4-10 miles from the point where Greenidge discharge waters flow into the lake.
“No one thing will generate a bloom by itself,” Boyer said in a recent email. “It is not unexpected that you would not get a HAB near Dresden if the water column stability, nutrient levels and sunlight were not in the right spot to support it.”
But he added that “warm water at Dresden could easily impact other parts of the lake.”
That’s less true for Lake Ontario because of its gigantic size, Boyer said. But shorelines and harbors like Sodus Bay — midway between the FitzPatrick and Ginna nuclear plants — are particularly vulnerable.FitzPatrickREADY
The FitzPatrick nuclear plant in Oswego is applying to the DEC to withdraw 787 million gallons a day from Lake Ontario, mostly to transfer heat from its condensers into the lake. Under its discharge permit, which expired in 2013, it can discharge water at temperatures up to 112 degrees, DEC records show.
About half a mile away, the Nine Mile nuclear plant is authorized to discharge up to 417 million gallons a day at temperatures up to 115 degrees.
The Ginna nuclear plant just east of Rochester is authorized to release up to 520 million gallons a day at up to 106 degrees.
This year HABs were reported at Wescott Beach about 20 miles northeast of the twin Oswego plants. In 2010, a cyanobacteria bloom in Sodus Bay forced beaches to close, triggering hotel cancellations that have reportedly stigmatized area tourism ever since.
On Lake Cayuga, AES Cayuga is authorized to release up to 245 million gallons a day at temperatures of up to 98 degrees under a state discharge permit that expired in 2014. (The DEC often allows companies to operate under expired permits if they have filed valid applications to renew.)
The frequency of the HABs reports on Cayuga this summer were unprecedented. Several beaches were forced to close for multiple days. High toxins were confirmed at at least one site more than 10 miles north of the power plant.
HABs first hit the national consciousness in the summer of 2014 when an outbreak on Lake Erie forced the city of Toledo to shut off its public water system, affecting 500,000 people.LisaClecknerReadyPDF
In the Finger lakes, reports of HABs grew steadily between 2012 and 2016, noted Lisa Cleckner, director of the Finger Lakes Institute in Geneva. “Moving forward to 2017, all of a sudden every single Finger Lake had an algal bloom and many had high toxins,” she said.
The most common type of cyanobacteria found in the Finger Lakes this year produces microcystis, a nerve and liver toxin. Exposure to it has been associated in scientific studies with irreversible neurological diseases, including dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Cyanobacteria blooms often look like green mats of harmless algae, but sometimes they appear as green speckles in calm water. Cyanobacteria are not algae, but the DEC has embraced the misnomer “harmful algal blooms” in an apparent effort to more effectively warn the public.
Direct contact with the toxins from swimming or breathing irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat.
Dogs in particular are at risk because they are attracted to the toxins’ smell and can be poisoned by grooming after a swim. SUNY-ESF’s Boyer has said he strongly suspects that cyanobacteria caused the sudden death in 2016 of a dog that had been swimming at a Lake Ontario beach near Rochester.
To better document the growing HABs scourge, the DEC has been encouraging Finger Lakes citizens to monitor stretches of lake shoreline and report (with pictures and exact locations) suspected blooms. The most suspicious are sent to Cleckner’s lab in Geneva, Boyer’s lab in Syracuse and a state facility in Albany for tests.
Seneca and Owasco lakes have highly coordinated monitoring networks, but the other lakes lag behind.
The alarming rise in the frequency of HABs with high toxins — due in part to better reporting — has set off alarm bells for the thousands of lakeside property owners who draw water directly from the lakes or from shoreline wells.SyracuseReady
Plus, Rochester, Syracuse and dozens of smaller towns and villages draw their drinking water from the Finger Lakes. Their water treatment plants are being forced into action.
Syracuse, which draws from Skaneateles Lake, and the town of Auburn, which draws from Owasco Lake, detected toxins in their raw water this summer and are weighing measures to prevent it from reaching public drinking water in the future.
Auburn’s tap water was tainted in 2016, but no tap water drawn from a Finger Lake was found to be contaminated this year.
In response to Auburn’s public water crisis last year, the DEC formed the Finger Lakes Water Hub, a team that strives to understand the causes of cyanobacteria blooms in order to take steps to slow down their proliferation.
On its website, the DEC maintains an archive of HABs events in New York since 2012. The website also lists the causes of HABs as: “Excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), lots of sunlight, low-water or low-flow conditions, calm water, and warm temperatures.”
The agency doesn’t specify whether temperature refers to air or water.
Boyer and John Halfman, a scientist at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, have placed more emphasis on water temperature.
“Surface water temperatures above 20 degree Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) are optimal for cyanobacteria to grow,” Boyer wrote.HalfmanREADY
Halfman, an expert on Seneca Lake water conditions who works with the Finger Lakes Institute, said blooms “are believed to prefer … warm water temperatures (60-80 degrees Fahrenheit).”
The DEC’s practice of routinely allowing electric power plants to use once-through cooling (OTC) was already under scrutiny before questions were raised about its potential contribution to the HABs crisis.
The environmental drawbacks of the outdated OTC technology — which involves sucking in vast quantities of lake or ocean water and returning it heated to the same water body — have been debated nationwide for decades.SierraClub
OTC systems kill millions of fish in various stages of their life cycle — so many that the Sierra Club has nicknamed them “fish blenders.” Once-through cooling systems also harm other plant and animal life and their ecosystems by disrupting normal water temperature patterns.
California is in the process of phasing out OTC as an acceptable cooling option for its power plants. That state prefers to see condenser water cooled in cooling towers or to see the old plants simply close down.EPA
In 2011, after years of contentious debate and foot-dragging, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, issued complex rules for all plants that withdraw more than 2 million gallons a day and use at least a quarter of it for cooling.
That same year, the DEC issued its policy statement, which stated that “closed-cycle cooling or the equivalent (is) the performance goal for the best technology available to minimize environmental impacts.”
Yet once-through cooling is still commonly allowed. That has led to lawsuits against the DEC over its condenser cooling and water withdrawal policies.
In a case now pending in a state appeals court in New York City, the Sierra Club argues that the DEC should have applied conditions to the water withdrawal permit it granted to the East River Generating Station in Manhattan.DEC
The DEC claims that its hands are tied by the law, which states that the agency “shall issue an initial permit, subject to appropriate terms and conditions as required under this article, … for the maximum [water withdrawal] capacity reported …”
The DEC says the word “shall” is “non-negotiable, it is a command” to issue the withdrawal permit for East River’s previous maximum of 373 million gallons a day.
The Sierra Club counters that granting the permit does not preclude conditions promoting “water conservation measures.”
A state Supreme Court judge sided with the DEC, prompting the Sierra Club’s current appeal. The Sierra Club also appealed the DEC’s lower court victory in the Greenidge case.
The DEC declined to answer a series of emailed questions I posed on whether the industrial use of once-through cooling might promote cyanobacteria blooms. Agency spokeswoman Erica Ringewald cited pending litigation.
But a senior scientist at the DEC recently dismissed the likelihood that power plant hot water discharges could be part of the problem.McCaffreyREADY
At a public forum on HABs in Geneva Oct. 26, Lewis McCaffrey was asked by a member of the forum audience to comment on the possible effect of Greenidge in particular.
“There’s a really powerful factor that’s heating up the lake in the summer, and that’s obviously the sun,” said McCaffrey, a staff member of the Finger Lakes Water Hub. “So how much (lake water warming caused by) the industrial uses of the lake are compared to the sun heating it up, I really don’t know, but I would probably say it’s insignificant.
“No concerns have been raised to me about the lake being warmed up particularly by those industries.”