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Food-waste-to-energy plant proposed for Youngs Avenue

Riverhead Town is being asked to provide more than $500,000 for an “anaerobic digester” proposed for town-owned property on Youngs Avenue, and split whatever profit the facility makes.

A group called CEA Energy LLC is proposing a food-waste-to-energy plant on a 12.7-acre site on the north side of Youngs Avenue, across from the landfill, which includes a town yard waste facility and the former animal shelter. The total cost of the project would be between $20 million and $22 million, they said.

The board members present at last Thursday’s work session, where the proposal was made, later voiced support for the project.

But Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said in an interview Friday that the town will not pass a resolution supporting the proposal at its meeting Wednesday because it needs to further investigate the financial numbers.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who was absent Thursday but had met with the developer in November, is opposed to the proposal, saying the town is being asked to put up the land and the money for the project without any risk to CEA Energy. She said she believes a number residents who live near the area also are opposed.

Commercial food waste would be fed into the facility and would be used to produce compressed natural gas, which would be fed into National Grid’s pipelines, according to Mark Lembo of Wading River, CEO of CEA Energy.

There currently is no place on Long Island to dispose of commercial food waste, he said.

Riverhead Town and CEA Energy would split whatever profits result from the arrangement, Mr. Lembo said. He estimated that the town stood to make about $2 million annually from the project.

Working with Mr. Lembo on the project are Thomas Carmody, the president of TC Tech LLC in Wayne, N.J., and Steve Solar, a financial advisor for CEA.

“We’re trying, as a society, to get food out of the landfills,” Mr. Carmody said. “It’s roughly 30 percent of the landfill. It’s bad for the environment because you are spending energy to get it to the landfill, and then you lose the methane gas, or, if you capture it, it’s not as efficient as it would be if you put it in a digester.”

CEA has agreements with three local carting companies — which Mr. Lembo said he cannot identify publicly yet — to provide food waste. And Mr. Carmody says that one of the biggest sources of food waste is food with an expiration date that has passed.

CEA is proposing to use a technology from a Belgian company called Global Water and Energy, which CEA said “is a proven technology in the United States.”

The project will include a plant capable of processing a minimum of 100 tons per day of a combination of organic material, food waste and limited sludge from wastewater treatment facilities, the group said.

CEA envisions the plant being expandable to 200 tons per day, and says that only four to five additional trucks will result from the plan.

The project is being spearheaded by Mr. Lembo, who led a citizens’ effort in opposition to a proposed commercial jet cargo port at the Enterprise Park at Calverton in the early 1990s.

Mr. Lembo said the deadline for state grants being sought for the project is March 7, and he asked that the Town Board pass a resolution in support of the project prior to that.

“Basically, it’s going to be a 50-50 partnership,” Mr. Lembo said. “We are not looking to put any debt on the town.”

CEA is also asking that the town perform about $500,000 in “soft costs” associated with the permitting of the facility, over the course of two years. They also sought a $79,000 down payment from the town.

The GWE technology was used in a similar plant in Southington, Conn., which Councilman Catherine Kent and town engineer Drew Dillingham visited.

They both confirmed what Mr. Lembo said, that there was no odor outside the plant when the doors are closed. Mr. Lembo said there is an odor inside the plant.

After CEA left, board members discussed the plan and decided informally to move forward with it.

“I think in theory and in concept, based on what they presented today it seems like a no-brainer,” Councilman Jim Wooten said.

“I think is a win for us and the community and it also relieves some of the burden on the tax payers,” Ms. Jens-Smith said.

“I’m pretty comfortable with it,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said. “I’d like to move forward with this.

Ms. Giglio said in an interview that she felt it was ironic they had this presentation at the work session on a day when she wasn’t present to question it.

She said Mr. Lembo was told by the supervisor in November to meet with all the board members one by one. Ms. Jens-Smith said that is accurate. Ms. Giglio said she told the developers they should have met with the entire board at a work session, which didn’t happen until last Thursday.

“This is a 100 percent backdoor deal,” Ms. Giglio said. “They are coming in on a work session when all our kids are on vacation and asking to schedule a vote on this in less than a week. They want us to spend $500,000 that we don’t have in the back yet from sPower.”

sPower, a solar company planning a new facility in Calverton, promised the town a $1,050,000 community benefit fund in January.

“There’s no risk to the company in this deal,” Ms. Giglio said. “We’re putting up the money and the land.”

Ms. Giglio said she’d rather use that money on a master plan for Route 58 and downtown.

Ms. Jens-Smith said no decision has been made on where the money would come from if the town agrees to participate in the project.

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Photo caption: Mark Lembo and Thomas Carmody pitched the idea at last week’s board meeting. (Tim Gannon photo)