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Debate continues on whether food waste facility can proceed at EPCAL

“Let someone else be the guinea pig,” Riverhead Councilman Tim Hubbard said of allowing a proposed food-waste-to-energy facility known as a “anaerobic digester” in the town.

A company called CEA Energy is seeking to build one at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, but the chief town building inspector said the use is not permitted because the use is similar to “specifically prohibited” uses like dumps, landfills, transfer stations and incinerators. 

The proposal is described in the application as “the manufacturing and processing of a organic state of the art anaerobic digestion facility to produce compressed natural gas and natural, organically certified fertilizers.”

The town Zoning Board of Appeals has held three public hearings on the applicant’s request for an interpretation of whether a recycling or solid waste management use is permitted in the Planned Industrial Park zone at EPCAL. Two different building inspectors said it is similar to prohibited uses and rejected the proposal. 

Zoning Board of Appeals chairman Fred McLaughlin said the ZBA feels the Town Board should make the decision. 

“It’s too new,” Mr. Hubbard said. “There’s not enough data to the long term effects of this, or whether it could be dangerous or combustible. This is years away, let someone else be the guinea pig.”

Vic Prusinowski, a representative for CEA Energy, specifically asked for an adjournment before the ZBA Tuesday night. It was adjourned until June 23.

“We have other conversations going on with the Town right now,” he said. 

Town Attorney Erik Howard said the town still has a moratorium in place on new solar farms. He said that moratorium could be expanded to include all renewable energy systems. 

Mr. Howard has written a proposed definition of “anaerobic digester” as “Any facility which accepts, treats or processes waste water treatment sludges, biosolids, manure, food waste, fats, oils, greases, energy crops, glycerin, silage or any similar material for the purpose of producing biogas and digestate, which is “the material remaining after the anaerobic digestion of a biodegradable feedstock.”

Councilman Bob Kern said that there are anaerobic digesters in Europe and that it would take “two, three calls” there to get information. 

“Just because Europe does it doesn’t mean it’s right,” Mr. Hubbard said. 

Councilman Ken Rothwell said he is not opposed to the idea but he is concerned about where the material is coming from. He doesn’t want to see food waste coming from New York City, he said. 

Planner Greg Bergman said there have been explosions associated with anaerobic digesters.