Long Island's largest organic waste handler and garden-products maker Monday said it has agreed to modernize its Yaphank facility in a way that could become a model for the process throughout the region.
Long Island Compost announced a $50 million plan to construct an anaerobic digester and make other improvements at its 62-acre facility to increase the efficiency of its operations while addressing odors, dust and noise that neighbors have complained about for years.
The plan would enclose a large portion of the facility, and reduce odors typically associated with compost production by conducting the work indoors in an air-sealed environment. The plant would produce enough methane gas to operate much of the machinery and trucks on its site, reducing greenhouse gases and noise. Roads would be paved to reduce dust.
Charles Vigliotti, chief executive of the company, said he expects construction to take about a year once permits and variances are issued by town and state governments.
The upgrade would put the company on the cutting edge of organic waste handling on the East Coast. Western Europe has around 200 such facilities, which cleanly convert vegetative waste into compost in around 30 days. The nearest similar one to New York is in Ohio, officials said.
Long Island Compost takes months to turn grass clippings, leaves and other organic waste into compost, a process that involves turning large windrows on remote farms and other properties. The windrows, when located near neighborhoods, have been the target of complaints about odors and particulates in the air.
When the new process is in place, Vigliotti said he expects to more aggressively begin phasing out those windrows. "We've been in a process of transitioning out of that," he said. "This will accelerate that."
The anaerobic digester will produce around 90,000 tons of compost a year, and will constitute the majority of the company's roughly 150,000-ton annual production, Vigliotti said.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the group that helped broker the agreement, said the facility could accelerate recycling of organic waste from establishments that may not already do so.
"We'd like to see many of the large-scale institutions join in," she said of local colleges, restaurants and others that produce large organic waste streams.
The company began negotiating improvements after the state Department of Environmental Conservation revoked a critical operating permit for the facility in 2011, following odor and noise complaints.
As part of the agreement, Long Island Compost has also agreed to reduce the amount of mulch it keeps at the facility. The DEC has called the Long Island Compost agreement "historic," and neighborhood groups, while optimistic, said continued monitoring will be essential.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine said he was optimistic that the facility would address residents' issues, but with caveats. "I think it's going to go a long way to solving this issue," he said. "But I want to see it operating."
For municipalities around Long Island, resolution of the Yaphank issue would be more than just a model for waste handling. Many rely on Long Island Compost to take in their annual stream of organic yard waste such as leaves, grass clippings and removed trees. In Superstorm Sandy's aftermath, the company's Westbury transfer station had upwards of 600 trucks a day dropping off trees, branches and similar material felled by the storm, Vigliotti said. That material has been converted to mulch now sold in stores up and down the East Coast, Vigliotti said.