ROMULUS — Calling it the “wave of the future,” an environmental attorney touted the benefits of a $365 million waste-to-energy plant Monday night during a public information session that was ridiculed by some of the hundreds in attendance.
Alan Knauf, representing Circular EnerG LLC, outlined the proposed trash-burning facility during a meeting of the town Planning Board. Public comment was not allowed at the session, which was attended by an estimated 250 people at the Romulus firehouse.
The plant is being proposed for a 48.3-acre parcel at the former Seneca Army Depot. Circular EnerG is affiliated with Top Circle Capital of New York, which has an office in Rochester.
“This is such a great project for the environment and the local economy,” Knauf said, his words drawing laughter from some in the crowd.
He maintained waste-to-energy plants are a better alternative to landfilling, which he said contributes to more greenhouse gases and global warming. He claimed methane gas emitted by landfills are 25 times worse than carbon dioxide emitted from a waste-to-energy plant.
If approved by various Romulus boards and the Department of Environmental Conservation, the facility would be built in two phases. The first would see construction begin by 2019 and end in 2021; the second would start in 2021 and finish in 2023.
Knauf said the facility would take about 1,345 tons of waste per day after the first phase is complete, and 2,600 tons per day after phase 2 is done. Knauf noted that is much less than the daily tonnage taken in by nearby Seneca Meadows Landfill.
The plant would produce electricity and steam power. Knauf said it would result in 85 permanent jobs and hundreds of construction jobs.
“This is what people are doing in other parts of the country and Europe,” Knauf said. “Circular energy is the wave of the future.”
The facility would be on land owned by Seneca Depot LLC. Its president, Mike Palumbo, said the biggest issue to developing the land is lack of electricity, which he said prevented Walmart from putting a big distribution center there years ago.
“This has been an uphill battle for 17 years,” said Palumbo, noting the land provides taxes for the school district and fire department. “We are good neighbors. All we are asking is to give it an open ear before you say no.”
Several people in the audience said “no” after Palumbo’s comments.
Jim Daigler, of Daigler Engineering, said he has been involved in landfill engineering for nearly 40 years and called himself a “landfill guy.” He said while the last municipal-waste combustion plant in New York was built many years ago, other states are turning to them including Florida, which has 11.
Daigler added that 430 millions tons of waste are put in landfills each year.
“These facilities are part of that solution,” he said. “This is not a new approach. A rebirth is happening.”
Circular EnerG is working with another engineering firm, Costich Engineering. Company Vice President Mike Ritchie said water from Seneca Lake is critical for steam production, and plans are to use 300 gallons of water per minute — equating to 445,000 gallons per day — in the facility.
“There are 4.2 trillion gallons of water in Seneca Lake,” Ritchie said. “Withdrawal from the lake is kind of a drop in the bucket.”
Ritchie added that the waste would come in by truck until rail lines to the site can be established. He said the “worst-case scenario” would see 170 trucks per day going to the site.
Opposition mounted quickly after the project was announced last month. Gas Free Seneca, an organization that fought against underground storage of liquid propane near Seneca Lake north of Watkins Glen, asked people to show up in force last night as a demonstration of opposition.
The Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition and Seneca Lake Guardian have sent letters to the Romulus Planning Board, urging it to reject the proposal.
Planning Board Chairman Tom Bouchard said the board would have to grant a special-use permit for the project to go forward. The town Zoning Board of Appeals will have a public hearing, and if that board signs off on the project it would go back to the Planning Board for final approval.
The Seneca County Planning Board will weigh in as well.
“Without question, this massive plan will require close scrutiny,” Bouchard said in a statement. “Tonight will not be the night for comments and questions. There will be ample time for public comment down the road. This board will give this project due diligence ... and we will keep the public informed every step of the way.”