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Plan for proposed food-waste plant now shifted to EPCAL

A proposed $22 million food-waste-to-energy plant intended for Youngs Avenue in Calverton is off the table after negative feedback from community members.

The food-waste-to-energy plant will be relocated to the Enterprise Park in Calverton, according to Mark Lembo, the CEO of CEA Energy LLC.

The potential “anaerobic digester,” which sparked community outrage at a Feb. 14 Riverhead Town Board meeting, was intended to be built on five town-owned acres on Youngs Avenue at the site of the former animal shelter.

The plant would process commercial food waste into natural gas and be fed into National Grid’s pipelines. CEA Energy had requested the town provide more than $500,000 for the building and digester permit and then they would split the facility’s profits with the town.

Last Thursday, Greater Calverton Civic Association president Toqui Terchun facilitated a discussion between Mr. Lembo, CEA manufacturer representative Chris Harvey, and civic association members regarding the proposed food-waste-to-energy plant.

Ms. Terchun initiated the conversation with a question: “… Why did you choose Riverhead?”

Riverhead Town chose CEA Energy, Mr. Lembo said, when Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith approached him roughly 10 months ago about discussing a potential anaerobic digestion facility on town-owned property.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent visited a similar food-waste-to-energy plant in Southington, Conn., last November, and after Town Board members expressed interest in the project, Mr. Lembo said he was invited to the Feb. 14 work session.

Civic association trustee Joe Graziano of Baiting Hollow said that at the Feb. 14 work session, Mr. Lembo mentioned he spoke with “the civics” and received no negative review of the plant — but Mr. Graziano said he never spoke with the Calverton civic association.

Mr. Lembo took responsibility for not reaching out to the civic association sooner, but said he would not proceed without community support.

After the meeting, Mr. Lembo revealed he was approached by the property owner of EPCAL about relocating the digester last month. CEA Energy has been in negotiations with EPCAL since February, he said.

The Youngs Avenue location was prioritized over EPCAL, he said, because it would benefit the town. Riverhead Town would have received 50 percent of the revenue that the digester projected.

But he said EPCAL is a better option — because food waste would be brought in on rail lines and a sewer and gas line are already connected at the site.

“Now I could go to a much larger geographical area to bring in food waste,” he said. “I don’t have to tell someone in New York City to drive their truck out to Riverhead, they just come right out on the rail.”

The digester would still need to be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals and the state Department of Environmental Conservation and receive a building permit.

At the civic association meeting, Mr. Lembo suggested the group’s members, who voiced concerns with the Youngs Avenue proposal, support the new construction of the project at EPCAL.

Following the meeting, Ms. Terchun, who was named civic association president last month, expressed frustration with his suggestion.

“It’s not for us to speak for Riverhead like that,” she said. “This is not the venue to endorse you. You need to be in front of the town, you need to make a case — not to us.”

Mr. Lembo said he’s been in the environmental community since construction began on the Shoreham nuclear power plant by Long Island Lighting Company in 1973. He founded Citizens Against East End Jetports where he partnered with the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and other local groups, he said.

Photo caption: Mark Lembo, CEO of CEA Energy, discusses a potential food-waste-to-energy plant in Calverton at the March 21 Greater Calverton Civic Association meeting. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

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