BY CHERYL SLAVIN
The community based coalition Stop Anellotech, formed several months ago in response to that company’s Planning Board application for a project expansion, will continue to press for greater disclosure of data about the environmental impact the expanded facility might have on the surrounding residential neighborhoods. Anellotech executives continue to insist, however, that they have provided the information requested, adhered to every legal requirement, and that their cutting edge technology presents no danger to local residents.
At the Orangetown Zoning Board hearing on January 21 Anellotech came one step closer to realizing its plan to build an 85 foot tall facility, topped by a vent or smoke stack, when the ZBA found that the application conformed with zoning board performance standards. The ZBA’s decision relied in part on a report submitted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and two reports by firms the board deemed “outside independent third parties,” Trinity Consultants and Triumvirate Environmental. All three reports stated that according to the data provided by Anellotech, benzene emissions from the vent/smoke stack fell way below state safety standards.
Community activists now take issue with several aspects of that decision. First, they assert, Anellotech has falsely represented itself as a “research and development” facility, thus implicating a far less stringent standard of review than if it were designated a “manufacturing” plant. Stop Anellotech members assert that since the company will admittedly be producing the chemicals benzene, toluene and xylene on its premises, and further sending samples of these products to potential investors, that it is in fact a manufacturing plant, and not “R&D.” They have filed an Article 78 proceeding against the planning board to force a reconsideration of its preliminary approval and negative declaration based in large part on this argument.
David Sudolsky, Anellotech president and CEO, responds that producing samples at a “pilot plant” is not the same as manufacturing, especially as defined by the Internal Revenue Service. Moreover, he says, the approximately quart-sized samples would be distributed for free, and not sold.
The coalition also contends that the ZBA’s reliance on all three of the studies is misplaced, claiming that each study is fatally flawed. They claim, for instance, that Anellotech has failed to respond to the DEC’s request for additional information necessary to determine whether a solid waste permit would be necessary, thus rendering that portion of the report useless. They also question the impartiality of the Triumvirate report, claiming (a) that ZBA chair Dan Sullivan improperly communicated with that firm while it was preparing the report; (b) that there appears to be a family connection between a ZBA member and a Triumvirate employee; and (c) there may have been a connection between George Huber, one of Anellotech’s founders, and the Triumvirate firm. Overall, the activists don’t trust the reports because they are based solely on data supplied by Anellotech and not on any outside independent investigation.
Sudolsky responds that his company is in a “continuing dialogue” with the DEC, and that Anellotech will obtain permits if they are needed. He also stated that he would not directly comment on what information exactly was communicated to the DEC. He explicitly denied that anyone in Anellotech’s Pearl River facility knew anyone at Triumvirate, and that to his knowledge, Huber had never heard of that firm. He asserted the veracity of the reports that chemical emissions from the vent/smoke stack would be well below state standards, especially as the pipe would also be equipped with a “calalytic oxidizer” to eliminate toxins from the steam.
Moreover, members of Stop Anellotech have started to question the ability or desire of their elected officials to protect them from potential biohazards, as well as the efficacy of the current town codes to do so. The codes as currently written do not directly address technologies such as pyrolysis, or substances such as “biomass feedstock.” Coalition members have started to call for a moratorium on all land use applications, including Anellotech’s, that address potentially hazardous situations, until the town codes can be reviewed and updated as needed.
The town’s official response to this demand has been one of extreme caution; some years ago a construction company successfully sued the town after development permits had been approved and then later revoked. Although that is not exactly the same situation as this one, where the approval process is still on-going, town officials fear the same result. Even Supervisor Andy Stewart, who has openly supported Stop Anellotech, has only stated that he will consult with legal counsel and the rest of the board before making any decision. Councilman Thomas Diviny has expressed similar thoughts on social media.
Advocates have also questioned who rescinded Rockland County’s laws governing air pollution and bulk chemical storage last April, and why it was done. They worry that the lack of these controls have opened up their communities to development by companies producing toxic substances with very little oversight. According to Scott Salotto from the county’s Public Information Office, the elimination of the county’s air pollution program was a “county budgetary decision,” made during the legislature’s budget deliberations in late 2013; the actual rescission of the corresponding code provisions occurred in April 2014. He could not say which legislators in particular voted for the rescission, nor could he immediately confirm how the bulk chemical storage provisions were rescinded.
After the ZBA’s January 21 ruling, Stop Anellotech held a meeting of its own to strategize its response and plan for future action. Although they still seek full disclosure as to the content of the air emissions and other substances, their attorney Brian Condon believes that ultimately the real issue to resolve is whether or not Anellotech is truly “R&D.” They will continue to pursue the Article 78 proceeding, even though it appears that the planning board intends to issue its final decision on March 11. Mostly, say the residents, they want to ensure that whatever happens, the health and safety of their families, homes and businesses will remain protected.
Sudolsky continues to aver that emissions from his plant would be minimal, that he has given the community answers to their questions, and that he continues to believe that Anellotech will bring jobs and tax revenue to Orangetown and Rockland County.
Supporter of the project Al Samuels, president and CEO of the Rockland Business Association, noted that if the project were a health hazard the numerous research scientists working next door at Pfizer would likely be the first to object.