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Smithtown considers drafting law to allow indoor composting

Toby Carlson of Power Crush in Kings Park

Toby Carlson of Power Crush in Kings Park proposed an indoor recycling at the facility. Credit: Ed Betz

Tons of lawn clippings and other organic waste could be processed indoors in Smithtown’s industrial zones after a yearslong study by town officials and waste management experts winds down in coming months.

The $250,000 study, which started in 2016 and is examining indoor composting and anaerobic digestion, has taken town staffers to Connecticut and upstate New York to observe processing facilities in action.

Town officials said that if they decide to move forward after the study, new rules regulating the indoor activity could be written in 2018. They would be among the first on Long Island, where no indoor facilities now operate, they said.

“The findings we come up with, if we can come up with a workable ordinance, would work for the other townships,” said Allyson Murray, principal planner. A spokesman for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which is partially funding the town’s work, said the agency will use the results of the study in its own work with other communities.

Any changes to town law would be subject to the state’s environmental impact review process, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation would conduct regular inspections of any facilities.

Traditional outdoor composting, which takes place at 36 state-regulated facilities on Long Island, has drawn complaints about dust and odors from neighbors. Smithtown does not permit outdoor composting, though in interviews officials say some illicit composting may be taking place.

Indoor composting could be a better bet for suburban Smithtown, town officials said. Techniques like misting or negative air pressurization could reduce odors. Anaerobic digestion would produce methane that could be sold or used as fuel.

“There are technological solutions which would render a facility possible,” said Russell Barnett, the town’s environmental protection director and solid waste manager.

Facilities in town could provide a cost-efficient alternative for the 20,000 tons of leaves that the town now pays a Babylon contractor to pick up every year at a cost between $700,000 and $1 million.

“We don’t want to make the people within our township have to ship out to other locations,” Murray said.

At least one Smithtown businessman has said he would build an indoor facility if the town permits it. In 2014, Toby Carlson proposed investing as much as $50 million at his company, Power Crush, which sits on 64 acres in Kings Park — a proposal that sparked the town’s study. Carlson, who had a history of land-use violations resolved in connection with illegal composting, said no composting now occurs at his property.

Smithtown officials haven’t decided how much or what type of waste they would allow, Murray said, and different types of waste might require different processing methods. Both Murray and Barnett emphasized that even if Smithtown allows indoor composting, the town would not allow itself to become a regional processing center for organic waste.

David Tonjes, a research associate professor specializing in solid waste management at Stony Brook University, warned that the technical and logistical problems of large-scale composting could be significant. And he doubted that Smithtown’s work would result in a sea change in the way the region handles its waste.

“Long Island, as a wealthy area, is probably going to avoid having unpleasant land uses as much as possible,” he said. “We don’t bury our garbage here. We send it off Long Island, or we burn it, turn it into ash.”

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