Angry residents not so much
BY CHERYL SLAVIN
At its January 21 meeting, the Orangetown Zoning Board of Appeals continued its public hearing on the application by Anellotech, Inc, to expand its current laboratory facility—located on the Pfizer campus—to include a new 84 foot high building topped by a 15 foot “vent pipe” or “smokestack.” The purpose of the hearing was to determine whether Anellotech’s application met the performance standards necessary for approval. Those standards prohibit nonresidential property uses from creating “any dangerous, injurious or other objectionable…hazard; noise…smoke, dust, odor or other form or air pollution…liquid or solid refuse or waste…in a manner or amount as to adversely affect the surrounding area.”
However, although the hearing was a continuation, the ZBA appeared to have already made its decision regarding the application even before any of the public spoke, including Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart and Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack, both of whom pressed for more time to gather information.
Alluding to two emissions reports by third party consultants Trinity Consultants and Triumvirate Environmental, Stewart, the first public speaker of the night, said, “Especially since the two third party reviews have only just become available this afternoon, I urge this board to continue this hearing and put off any final decision until all the information is thoroughly reviewed. There should be no decision until all safety issues are resolved.”
The two reports had been commissioned two weeks earlier by the town in an attempt to obtain objective information about the type and quantity of toxic emissions that would be released into the surrounding neighborhoods of Pearl River and Nanuet if Anellotech were allowed to expand. The reports only became available to the board and to the public the afternoon of January 21, the same day of the hearing. The ZBA had also received, in the interim between the two meetings, a report from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
However, despite the Supervisor’s request, and before any of the public had a chance to ask questions or voice opinions, ZBA Chairman Daniel Sullivan abruptly stated, “There will be a decision tonight. The applicant has met its burden, and there are no grounds on which to deny the application.”
Sullivan maintained that the three reports, all of which stated in essence that the amount of benzene vented from the smoke stack would be well beneath state and federal safety standards, provided sufficient compliance with the performance standards, and that there was no reason not to approve the application. The overflow crowd present at Town Hall adamantly disagreed.
Kathleen Kelly, the first speaker after Sullivan’s announcement and a member of the community coalition Stop Anellotech, stated that she was “shocked and ashamed” by the ZBA’s “lack of attention” to fact finding. She, along with many others, noted that the emissions reports were based upon data provided by the very company that was being investigated. She also questioned the veracity of Anellotech’s claim that it is only a “research and development” facility and therefore not subject to the more rigorous monitoring that a full manufacturing facility would be. She pointed out that the company’s representatives, including its president and CEO David Sudolsky, have stated that they would be manufacturing and distributing up to 1 kilogram quantities of the BTX to strategic partners as samples for testing.
Other questions included what type and quantity of chemicals would be stored at the facility, the exact composition of the biomass feedstock to be converted, how the product would be transported, and whether the local volunteer fire fighters were properly trained for a chemical fire or hazardous waste spill. Residents also asked about safety protocols, particularly in the event the “catalytic oxidizer,” intended to reduce toxic emissions by almost 99 percent, failed.
After a brief recess, Anellotech consultant Libby Bourne replied that there would never be any more than 300 gallons of chemicals stored at any one time within the facility’s secondary containment system, and that the Orangetown Fire Prevention Department had been fully consulted. She stated that the feedstock would be corn stover or saw dust only, and never manure or sewage. She noted that the three reports all confirmed that the emissions would be well below government standards, and that there was a safety mechanism that would immediately shut down the system should the catalytic oxidizer fail.
During the hearing Sudolsky stated that Anellotech’s mission was twofold: to reduce reliance on petrochemicals and combat climate and global warming changes. After the ZBA issued its formal approval, he told the Rockland County Times that with the expansion, another 15 permanent jobs will become available at the facility, in addition to the 23 current employees.
Heather Hurley, another Stop Anellotech organizer, expressed her disappointment in the ZBA’s decision, especially as it appeared that it had been made well before the hearing concluded. She stated that the hearing raised more questions than it answered, including those around the issue of monitoring emissions, and the veracity of the consultants’ reports. She asserted that the activists would not stop advocating until they attained complete transparency from the company and absolute proof of health and safety safeguards.
The application will now go back to the Planning Board for final approval. However, since Stop Anellotech has filed an Article 78 proceeding against that board’s initial approval, it is uncertain when the final decision will be made.