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Yaphank neighbors join suit over pollution against compost plant

Long Island Compost is located at 445 Horseblock

Long Island Compost is located at 445 Horseblock Road in Yaphank on Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

A Yaphank couple fed up with what they call the "unbearable" pollution from a nearby composting plant have joined a lawsuit that seeks to force the facility to comply with state and local mandates to clean up.

Donna and Michael Cioffi demand that the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Brookhaven Town, which are named defendants in the suit, enforce prior court and state orders to regulate the facility to reduce pollutants.

The filings Sept. 4 came a week after Long Island Compost and its American Organic Energy affiliate released new details of a 2-year-old plan to build an anaerobic digester at the 62-acre Yaphank site that is home to long-contested composting and mulching operations. The company was awarded a $1.35 million state grant to develop the $50 million facility. The digester would run considerably more cleanly, with nearly all its operations enclosed.

Richard Scheyer, a lawyer for the Cioffis and for Elaine Farsiso LLC, the owner of another large property near the site, raised questions about the digester last week, saying residents have little reason to believe Long Island Compost will come into compliance after years of violations.

"I think they are using it for cover," said Sheyer. "It doesn't make economic sense to suddenly bring garbage to this site, household garbage that has to be reduced and digested into some form of energy."

Charles Vigliotti, chief executive of Long Island Compost, denied those claims and blasted the Cioffis' lawsuit. He said the family "from day one has been trying to shake us down" to buy their home for more than it is worth.

Vigliotti also challenged the claim that the company hasn't implemented improvements mandated by 2006 and 2013 consent orders, saying the company has complied "100 percent with both the letter and the spirit" of the orders. He called the suit "ugly, unwarranted and baseless."

Vigliotti said he is actively pursuing the digester.

He added, "We have no doubts that we will be able to secure the financing. By the time we're permitted we will be able to go to financial close."

The Cioffis say in their suit the company has made "numerous offers" to buy them out but they "do not wish to move."

The suit claims Long Island Compost failed to comply with a consent agreement mandating that it apply for a permit for the digester within 180 days of order's filing on June 24, 2013. Brookhaven said it received an application for the digester on May 22, 2014.

The lawsuit also claims that the digester requires a minimum 60 acres for operation, but that the company has only 37 acres remaining after having "sold off" or "fully encumbered" 25 acres in a deal to sell packaging operations to Scotts Miracle-Gro earlier this year.

Long Island Compost has said the digester will turn 120,000 tons of food waste annually into natural gas that will fuel the facility. The company plans to sell the excess to the regional natural gas pipeline.

The project has been approved by the Suffolk Planning Commission. It awaits approvals from the town, Suffolk County and the state.

In their lawsuit, the Cioffis say they bought the home from Donna Cioffi's mother in 1988, and raised four children there.

They said problems began soon after a site plan was approved in 2005. "Life became unbearable when Long Island Compost went into operation," the suit says. "We were bombarded with noise, dust, and foul odors, on an almost continuous basis until it is impossible to open windows in the home."

A DEC spokesman didn't return calls seeking comment.

Brookhaven Town attorney Beth Reilly said the town hadn't been served with the Cioffi petition.

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