HOWARD HAPPY AS STATE DEC TO BE LEAD AGENCY IN GASIFICATION PROJECT

State DEC issues notice of intent to serve as lead agency of Stony Point project as Haverstraw continues objections 

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips has won the first battle in the gasification skirmish between Haverstraw and Stony Point
Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips has won the first round of the skirmish between Haverstraw and Stony Point over gasification

In a letter to the Stony Point Planning Board dated December 5, 2014, the State Department of Environmental Conservation declared its notice of intent to serve as the lead agency on the application by New Planet Energy to build a “green waste to energy biofuel” plant on property located at the end of Holt Drive in Stony Point. The site is directly adjacent to the border with the Town of Haverstraw and the Village of West Haverstraw.

Previously, the Stony Point Planning Board had declared its intention to be lead agency on the project, which entails oversight of the environmental impact study process, the permitting processes and the process of public education, outreach and input.

In the letter, DEC Deputy Regional Permit Administrator John Petronella states that the anticipated impacts of the proposed project are of a regional nature, extending well beyond the borders of Stony Point. For this reason, as well as the complex nature of the project which will require numerous permits covering solid waste management, air quality, wetlands use, and stormwater discharges, to name a few, the DEC is better suited for the task. Additionally, Petronella stated that the agency had the greater capability for providing the most thorough environmental assessment of the proposal.

Howard Phillips, supervisor for the Town of Haverstraw, is relieved that the DEC wants to take the lead. He has maintained for more than two years that the proposed site for the gasification plant, in close proximity as it is to a residential neighborhood, a school, a senior residence and public parks—all within Haverstraw borders—presents a danger to the health and safety of Haverstraw residents. His town is currently pursuing an Article 78 proceeding commenced more than a year ago challenging the legality of the planning board’s decision to proceed with the application.

Stony Point Supervisor Geoff Finn has consistently asserted at board meetings that while the project would bring in badly needed tax revenue for the North Rockland School District, as well as for his town, he would not pursue it if it turns out to be harmful. He has repeatedly urged the public to attend the informational meeting set for January 8, 2015, 7 p.m. at the Farley Elementary School in Stony Point.

Phillips says that Haverstraw will be represented by its town attorney and engineer, but that he doesn’t have much confidence that the developer will be completely forthcoming. He points instead to meetings he has had with the developers during which they have told him information that differs significantly, he claims, from what they have submitted on their application.

Moreover, he notes with alarm that as currently proposed, the plant would emit hundreds of thousands of tons of hazardous pollutants per year, including nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. He also expressed grave concern about the impacts on traffic, odor and noise resulting from the projected 200 trucks a day traveling through Haverstraw on Route 9W.

Stony Point officials have anonymously questioned Phillips sincerity, pointing out his town has approved many industrial projects near residential neighborhoods including a garbage dump a mile or so from the proposed gasification plant. Stony Pointers are keen to say things like “If this was sited in Haverstraw, Phillips would be all for it,” while Phillips suggests, “If they want to build this in Stony Point, put it at Tilcon and barge the garbage in!”

Two letters sent to Stony Point from the Rockland Department of Planning also pointed out a number of discrepancies and omissions including, among others, the failure to clearly state how, where, and for how long trucks carrying feedstock garbage will be stored on the property before they are off-loaded, the failure to include details of a recent traffic study, the lack of clarity as to whether and what type of fill would be used for the wetlands, and a discrepancy between two separate statements, one claiming the consumptive water use would be 330 gallons a minute and one stating the rate was per day. Rockland Planning also required reviews to be completed by the county Departments of Highway, Drainage, Environmental Resources, Health, and Fire and Emergency as well as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Joint Regional Sewer Authority.

In addition to environmental concerns such as the fate of a wetlands currently zoned for residential use, the DEC also seemed to parrot concerns raised by Phillips, referring to the question of “environmental justice.” It noted that the plant would be located in close proximity to a neighborhood primarily housing low income or minority residents, a population that too often bears a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences stemming from industrial development.

Mid-Hudson NAACP regional director Wilbur Aldridge concurs, asserting that developers can and do take advantage of the historic trend that lower income people of color are less likely to protest or raise objections to unfair impacts in their communities. At its most recent meeting, the Stony Point Planning Board passed a resolution authorizing its attorney, John Furst, to “cooperate with the DEC” on the issue of lead agency status. The board held off making any further on New Planet Energy matters until the question of lead agency is settled.