Rochester firm seeks to build $365 million trash incinerator in Seneca County
A "entrepreneurial" Rochester startup company has proposed a massive trash-burning incinerator in Seneca County.
The $365 million incinerator, which would burn up to 175 truckloads of solid waste each day, would be built on a 48-acre parcel that once was part of the storied Seneca Army Depot.
The facility, which would loom 180 feet high over the landscape with a smokestack that reaches even higher, would generate electricity and create ash that the developers say could be reused. The plant would be able to receive trash via rail as well as truck.
The parcel is not far from other depot property that is now known as Deer Haven Park, a preserve for the depot's famous white deer and a military history tourism destination.
The parcel where the new facility would go is owned by a company controlled by Rochester developer David Flaum, though the project is being undertaken by an unrelated company, Circular enerG LLC.
"We just think it’s a great project and it’s a really neat feature for handling solid waste," said Circular enerG' s counsel, Alan Knauf, a well-known environmental lawyer in Rochester.
Knauf said the facility, which would be opened in 2021 at the earliest, is preferable to landfills because it controls odors and captures the energy potential in trash.
Many landfills do collect methane from rotting waste and burn it to generate electricity, but do not do so as efficiently as the waste-to-energy plant would, Knauf said.
Circular enerG, incorporated just 11 months ago, is affiliated with Top Capital of New York, with which it shares a downtown Rochester office. That firm is best known locally for a controversial proposal to turn the historic Rochester seminary near Highland Park into a luxury hotel.
The company or its affiliates also are involved in senior-housing projects in Brockport and Saratoga Springs, and an undertaking to manufacture LED lights or fixtures in Rochester.
Top Capital's promotional material cites its use of funding obtained through the EB-5 program, which offers legal residency in the United States to citizens of foreign countries who invest at least $500,000 in a development project.
Knauf said the fact that Circular enerG has no track record, let alone experience in solid-waste management, can be considered a plus.
"Getting somebody new in the industry that is entrepreneurial — that wants to do something positive and in line with global climate-change policy — that’s a good thing," he said.
Circular enerG submitted its proposal to the planning board in the Seneca County town of Romulus about 10 days ago, said William Karlsen, the board's vice chair. He said he knew nothing about the company except that it was from the Rochester area.
"This is so new to us. It’s an incinerator design that’s been used overseas. This is almost like the first one in the United States. It’s a new technology." Karlsen said. "It sounds too good to be true, but my ears are open. I don’t know everything. I want to hear about it. Let’s hear them out."
Karlsen noted, though, that "there’s already opposition mounting now that this is public."
Several online news outlets have publicized the proposal in recent days, including a blog about environmental affairs in the Finger Lakes, Water Front. The blogger, Peter Mantius, published a document from the Circular enerG proposal late last week.
2,600 tons of trash each day
News that a company wants to bring an additional 2,600 tons of trash each day to the Finger Lakes for disposal is likely to be unpopular with some quarters.
The region already is home to four of the state's 10 largest landfills, and there have been repeated protests and litigation over expansion proposals at three of them. At present, residents are voicing complaints over odor issues at the landfills in Seneca County and the Monroe County town of Perinton.
Waste-burning incinerators also bring concerns about toxic constituents in smokestack emissions and ash. There were lengthy debates about incinerator proposals in Ontario and other Finger Lakes counties in the 1980s, but the proposals were never carried out.
Knauf said solid waste would be unloaded inside the hulking structure and odors would not escape outside. He also said the plant would be able to meet modern standards for conventional and toxic air pollutants.
Dennis Money, president of the group that runs Deer Haven Park, said he learned about the incinerator proposal Monday morning.
"My initial concern was, first of all, why do we need one there between two of the most beautiful Finger Lakes," he said, referring to the lakes that bound the county on east and west, Cayuga and Seneca.
"We need to find out more about it, but on the surface of it, I would be against it personally," Money said.
The Seneca County location was chosen, Knauf said, because the former depot property offers land appropriate for industrial development, utilities, and rail and road connections.
Trash would be imported to the site from distant locations such as New York City, as it already is to several of the large local landfills. Eventually, it might replace those landfills when their permits expire, Knauf said.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which would have to issue one or more permits to the company, said it had met with Circular enerG officials "to discuss New York's rigorous permitting process, should the project proceed."
But no permit applications had been filed as of Monday, DEC spokesman Kevin Frazier said.
There are nine permitted solid-waste incinerators in New York according to 2016 annual reports filed with the DEC. The nearest are in suburban Syracuse and Niagara Falls.
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