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Smithtown study on waste disposal plan delayed

Crews from the Smithtown Department of Public Works

Crews from the Smithtown Department of Public Works remove yard waste placed along Oakfield Road in Smithtown. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A Smithtown study of industrial-scale indoor composting has been delayed but will conclude this year with a public hearing on a law that could permit the facilities in some areas of the town, Smithtown’s principal planner said.

Officials said last year the town council would vote by early summer. But research that they and their consultants conducted on best practices and environmental impacts was delayed because of other town projects and interrupted grant funding from New York State, planner Allyson Murray said in an interview this week.

“We couldn’t have them working if we didn’t know it was going to be covered” under the grant, she said. The town also expanded the scope of its research to allow for visits to several indoor compost facilities outside of Long Island.

Town officials are now working on draft legislation and will in coming months produce an environmental impact statement, she said.

A spokeswoman for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which made a $187,500 grant to the town in 2015, wrote in emails that the town's account of delays "does not match up with our timeline." Agency officials nevertheless “continued to work with Smithtown to meet its contractual obligations" and expect to approve a contract extension with the town in coming weeks to fund continued work, she wrote.

Smithtown residents and businesses generate thousands of tons of potentially compostable food scraps and yard trimmings each year, and the town pays about $1 million annually to send leaves to Babylon for composting. But with the Brookhaven landfill — one of the largest in the area — likely to fill to capacity and close within five years, Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim has said he was committed to investigating local disposal options.

The most recent draft of a report summarizing Smithtown's research gives several locations in town where this use might be feasible, Murray said. The report will be made public later this month, she said.

At least one area businessman, Toby Carlson, who operates the outdoor recycling company Power Crush at a 64-acre site on Old Northport Road in Kings Park, has proposed building a composting facility if the town passes legislation.

He envisions there a 200,000- to 300,000-square-foot indoor facility on 25 acres to compost leaves, tree branches and other yard waste from Huntington and Smithtown. He has said he would invest $25 million to $50 million in the project.

Linda Henninger, president of the Kings Park Civic Association, said the group would review the results of the town study and draft legislation. "We need to be cautious and well-informed on the details of such a large project, as there is the potential for substantial impact on the residents," she said. 

Carlson, in an interview last week, said he had no interest in taking material from New York City, but that he would not rule out taking some food waste from the surrounding area in the future. He said demand for his work would grow.

“As local landfills close, there’s going to be a competing set of interests for transportation off-Island,” with construction and demolition debris getting priority, he said. “There will come a point in time where it makes a tremendous amount of sense to do it internally, on the Island, indoors, with a limited operation.”

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