County Legislature takes a look at proposed Anellotech plant; hears critics’ claims

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Responding to a strong public showing at a previous Legislature meeting, and upon the strenuous efforts of Pearl River Legislator Patrick Moroney, the Planning and Public Works Committee of the County Legislature held a discussion at its March 31 meeting about the proposed expansion plans of Anellotech, Inc. The plans currently call for the construction, on the Pfizer campus, of an 85 foot high building topped by a 15 foot high vent/smoke pipe to house the biotech’s test facility of its biomass conversion technology. The process is designed to convert organic feedstock into the commercially useful, if also carcinogenic, chemicals benzene, toluene and xylene.

As emphasized by Committee Chair Ilan Schoenberger, the County Legislature has little direct say over the land use review process. That has been conducted by the Town of Orangetown, in accordance to the procedures set out in its own code. Thus, although the committee heard statements both pro and con from representatives of the public, the legislators focused their questions on issues within the limited jurisdiction of the county. They appeared particularly concerned with permitting and air emission monitoring responsibility, as well as the impact on this review of the elimination of the county’s air pollution engineer position last year.

Steve Powers, representing the county executive, noted that a year ago the legislature abolished the DOH position of air pollution engineer and subsequently rescinded county codes pertaining to air pollution and chemical storage monitoring. The Planning Department, he said, has been implicated in the Anellotech review by virtue of the project’s proximity to two county roads, one state highway, one waterway, and a municipal boundary with the Town of Clarkstown.

Schoenberger pressed Powers to deliver an actual statement of position from Executive Ed Day. He noted that Day has previously brought legal action on environmental grounds to stop a town approved project, and wondered if that will happen again. Powers consistently refused to offer a statement, stating that he had not been authorized to do so.

Commissioner of Health Patricia Ruppert clarified that any permits having to do with hazardous waste or air pollution monitoring were issued by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Moroney stated that it was “alarming” that the local DOH has no oversight over a local project, and expressed dismay that it appeared that no governmental agency was actually going to monitor the emissions for this project. Legislator Aldan Wolfe added that it seemed a larger problem that the DEC does not provide state oversight for projects deemed “research and development,” as Anellotech is deemed.

Later in the meeting Legislator Harriet Cornell noted the importance of air monitoring and inquired whether there would have been any change in the RCDOH jurisdiction had there still been an air pollution engineer on staff. The DOH responded that even if there had been, any local permitting or monitoring would have been “parallel” with the DEC. There still would have been no independent emissions sampling, and the DOH would still have used data supplied by the company.

Moroney also pressed Anellotech to state exactly what permits have been required and whether it has received them. Melanie Golden, Anellotech’s environmental consultant, responded that the company is currently in the process of applying for a DEC 360 permit for solid waste which will include in it a list of all biomass sources the company will use for feedstock. She noted that even though the DEC would not require an air emissions permit because of the project’s R&C designation, the agency still conducted an analysis of data provided by Anellotech and determined that the levels of BTX possibly emitted through the vent stack are well below state and federal safety standards. She also stated that the company has applied to the county Drainage Agency for a permit based on the proximity of the proposed construction to Muddy Creek, a regulated waterway.

Wolfe noted that one of the main issues of contention is the question whether the facility is truly R&D. Golden replied that pilot plants are still R&D, based on the quantity of product produced and what is done with it. Anellotech CEO David Sudolsky stated that there would be no sales of its sample products, and no commercial production.

Heather Hurley, speaking on behalf of residents opposed to the Anellotech project, noted that the company has not been forthcoming about the composition of the biomass, the air emissions and the waste produced at the plant. She also questioned why the company had no hauler permits for its waste product, and doubted the accuracy of the emissions modeling conducted by the DEC and two other companies. Jim Flynn spoke in favor of the project, asserting that the company has fulfilled all requirements to prove that it is safe for the community. Joe Simoes, Clarkstown Planner, reiterated the town’s concerns about emissions monitoring as well as biomass content and waste management. Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart submitted a written statement reaffirming his opposition to the project.

According to Moroney, the committee will send a copy of its discussion and findings to the Orangetown Planning Board, adding that this would be the limit of the county’s involvement. The Orangetown PB will next address Anellotech’s application at its April 22 meeting.

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