As the founders of Long Island Compost and their majority investors broke ground Wednesday in Yaphank on a facility to turn food waste into biogas and fertilizer, some neighbors who object to the plan are raising alarms.
In a statement released to Newsday in advance of the groundbreaking, the Brookhaven Landfill Action & Remediation Group, a residents coalition, raised questions about whether the new anaerobic digester would contribute to the “surrounding overburdened community” becoming the “garbage capital of Long Island without any public planning process.”
But officials at the groundbreaking stressed that American Organic Energy (AOE) has been meeting with public officials and community groups for years, and that the facility would improve air quality and the environment, not worsen it.
"They are under a fundamental misunderstanding about the facility and what we do and the extent of reaching out we've gone through over 10 years," said chief executive Charles Vigliotti.
The neighborhood group accused the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town of having “abandoned public sustainable regional waste planning,” adding the “result is that even a seemingly environmentally beneficial anaerobic digester is advancing environmental injustice.”
One local resident, Annelies Kamran, charged that residents have had “no voice in this” and said truck traffic alone will “negatively impact the area.”
“How is trucking food waste 60 miles from New York an environmental solution?” asked Brookhaven resident Kerim Odekon in an email to Newsday.
But Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, at the groundbreaking, said the facility during its planning stages had "significant community imput," but noted, "You're never going to make everybody completely happy."
Bellone called construction of the digester a "landmark occasion for the region," and an "incredible project that moves us into the 21st century."
Kevin Molloy, spokesman for Brookhaven Town, noted the state DEC is responsible for regulating regional waste management, "not any individual local municipality." Brookhaven, he said, "has repeatedly stressed the need for a regional waste management plan for Long Island and successfully lobbied for state funding for a study to address the future of waste management on Long Island."
The DEC, in a statement, said it is “fully committed” to environmental justice issues and is “working to address concerns of nearby disproportionately affected communities …”
The anaerobic digester project’s permits, DEC said, were issued prior to the state’s May 2021 designation of that Brookhaven area as a potential environmental justice area. AOE’s solid waste permit, which was issued in January 2017, expired in 2021, and the company has submitted a renewal that is undergoing a “comprehensive review," the agency said.
Vigliotti, who also co-founded Long Island Compost with his brother Arnold, said earlier this month that the project will take lessons from his earlier feuds with residents over Long Island Compost.
“You listen to your critics and very often people have legitimate issues,” he said. “You can’t just go on fighting. It’s a rotten way to run a railroad.
Vigliotti on Wednesday said around 60 truckloads carrying 600 tons of food waste a day would enter the indoor facility when it's completed by the end of next year. He stressed that it's taking food that would otherwise be dumped in landfills, some as far away as Virginia and North Carolina.
He provided a long list of approvals and agencies who helped guide and approved the project. "Everybody but the Coast Guard has been involved in this," he said.
He said the anaerobic digester will do much of its work in a large contained indoor facility, turning food waste into biogas that will be sold to a third party using the National Grid gas distribution system. Solid and liquid waste will be sold as fertilizer and water at the end of the cycle will be sent to the Bergen Point treatment facility.
The facility will process up to 210,000 tons of food waste and fats, oils, and grease annually, and would produce 960 dekatherms of biogas.
AOE's application for tax and other incentives from the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency shows the facility could receive a mortgage recording tax exemption of up to $723,750 and a sales tax exemption on facilities equipment and other materials of up to $5.7 million, and it could make payments in lieu of taxes of from $12,280 to $14,670 over 10 years. IDA chief Lisa Mulligan and AOE said the figures could change before the application is finalized.
The application shows the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and Empire State Development have granted $1.75 million for the project.
A January “planned ownership structure” statement shows that Viridi Energy LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of investment firm Warburg Pincus, expected to take a 85% stake in the company. Previous documents listed Charles and Arnold Vigliotti as holding 50% of the company each.
Vigliotti said the negotiations with Viridi were ongoing, and the 85% stake listed in IDA documents was "wrong." He added he and his brother "will control the project," but declined to provide further details.