BY CHERYL SLAVIN
At its meeting on Wednesday, April 22 the Orangetown Planning Board voted 5-2 to approve the final site plan for the proposed Anellotech, Inc. expansion at the Pfizer campus. The plans call for the construction of an 84 foot high addition to Anellotech’s already existing laboratory facility to allow for the development and testing of its biomass-to-“green chemical” conversion technology.
A multitude of residents have continued to oppose the structure for fear that unsafe amounts of benzene, toluene and xylene will be emitted into the surrounding environment via the 15 foot vent pipe/smokestack atop the new building. Planning board members Robert Dell and Michael Mandel were the two votes against site plan approval.
As part of the approval, the board mandated that the plans include 24-hour continuous monitoring of the air emissions by an independent air pollution expert. This condition had been heavily lobbied for by the Orangetown Town Board as well as by several Clarkstown officials and County Legislator Patrick Maloney. Orangetown Building Department Director John Giardiello stated that his office was in talks with Trinity Consultants—the same firm that had issued one of the two previous third party reports about Anellotech’s air emissions—to do the work, which will be paid for by Anellotech.
Dissenting board members Robert Dell and Michael Mandel both expressed deep reservations about the possibility of an accidental spill or release of chemicals into the surrounding environment, a recurring theme throughout the evening. “I already think that the state and federal safety limits are inordinately high,” Dell said. “What will happen if something unforeseen occurs?”
Anellotech President and CEO David Sudolsky did not directly answer that question, although he did maintain that the projected levels of BTX to be released through the stack will be more than 18 times lower than state and federal safety levels. He also reminded the board that the company already had numerous safety features in place and that the expansion would bring more jobs to the town and county.
Mandel and Dell also pressed Sudolsky to reveal the exact content of the biomass feedstock that would be converted into the BTX chemicals. Sudolsky clarified that although its NYS Economic Regional Council funding application had included municipal solid waste and plastics, the only substances listed on Anellotech’s DEC 360 permit application for solid waste management were wood flour, corn stover and sugar bagasse.
Forty-three members of the public spoke at the hearing, of whom only two came out in favor of the proposal and one was neutral. Those against included Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart, Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack, Clarkstown Planner Joe Simoes, State Senator David Carlucci through his representative Justin Devendorf, and numerous residents of Clarkstown and Orangetown including four children. Their concerns continue to center around the air emissions, particularly of the carcinogen benzene, as well as worries about accidents and unforeseen circumstances.
“Monitoring emissions is a reactive process,” said Pearl River resident Kathleen Kelly. “By the time the chemicals are in the air, it’s too late to remediate.”
Other concerns included the impact on property values and the questionable economic benefits to the town. Some asserted that the 25 to 30 jobs produced by the plant should not justify putting their children and community at risk of toxic exposure.
“It’s also a question of financial prudence,” claimed resident Helen Shaw. “The company currently pays $58,000 a year in property taxes, which would rise to $75,000 with the expansion. Is an additional $17,000 a year worth releasing BTX into our air?”
Mandel also questioned Anellotech’s long term plans for the facility. On numerous occasions Sudolsky had represented that the pilot plant would not be in operation for more than three years. At this meeting he stated that once the conversion technology is deemed ready for commercial licensing, the facility would continue to be used for trouble shooting and development of improvements long after the initial three year period. He later stated to the Rockland County Times that that he could not immediately answer whether the facility’s continued use after the initial three year development phase would necessitate continued operation of the machinery, air emissions and transport of biomass to the plant.
The planning board’s approval vote sparked a wave of outrage from the standing room only audience.
“You have sold out your own county, you have sold out your own people!” one person could be heard shouting.
“Stop Anellotech and the communites of Orangetown and Clarkstown are very disappointed with the planning board’s approval,” Brian Condon, attorney for the Stop Anellotech organization, later told the Rockland County Times. He stated that the group will file a new Article 78 proceeding in response to this latest development, and that they plan to fight to the end against the “construction of a chemical plant in a residential neighborhood.” Stop Anellotech yard signs, the result of a group distribution effort and paid for by private donations, will continue to be seen dotting Orangetown and Clarkstown yards.
Sudolsky, on the other hand, maintains that his company has done everything required to show that it will ultimately prove beneficial to the surrounding community. “We appreciate the thorough and detailed review that our proposal has received,” he told the Rockland County Times. “We are pleased that planning board, as well as the zoning board of appeals, has approved our application, and we will continue to work with the DEC to obtain our solid waste management permit.”