Food Waste To Bio Gas Facility Proposed

The proposed facility would make money and help reduce food waste in Riverhead. Independent/Courtesy Town of Nestlé Waters

Even Richard Amper, executive director of the LI Pine Barrens Society, thinks the new facility would be relatively benign, and that’s saying a lot.

But for Toqui Terchun, president of the greater Calverton Civic Association, the whole approval process for this 25,000-square-foot proposal is moving forward just a little too smoothly.

CEA Energy LLC is proposing a $22 million food waste-to-energy facility on five acres on Youngs Avenue at the site of the former Riverhead Town animal shelter. State grant money would be available to defray some of the costs. The focus would be on diverting food waste from landfills and incinerators to create natural gas which could be used as alternative energy.

Terchun complained that at a February 20 Riverhead Town Board meeting it appeared the town was much further along in the discussions than logical, since it was supposedly a new proposal. The board agreed to place the resolution on the March 21 agenda with little fanfare.

“That’s how we found out about it,” Terchun said. “We wanted to be fair-minded, but we don’t want it in a residential neighborhood.”

Mark Lembo, CEO and managing partner for CEA Energy LLC, did not attend a CCA meeting in the weeks that followed, angering some of the residents. However, he was there Thursday night to address some of the neighbors’ concerns. He could not be reached for comment, however.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said in retrospect that she understood the neighbors might have initially felt left out of the loop. “[Mark Lembo] came here before the election and we made him get his ducks all in a row,” she said.

Lembo told the board local food carters such as farms and grocery stores now haul food waste away for disposal. He estimated the annual profit to be about $4 million, with the town getting half. That prompted board member James Wooten to express his support. “It’s a no-brainer,” he exclaimed at the meeting.

CEA has agreements with three local carting companies, Lembo said, to provide food waste. The process “is a proven technology in the United States,” he added.

With regard to Amper’s comment, the land in question is not in the Pine Barrens and has already been disturbed by the old dump and the dog pound. There is a recycling center in operation down the block.

Terchun said traffic, odor, and emissions were among the concerns that need to be addressed prior to approval. Amper promised more intense review from his organization should the project begin to move closer to completion.

Jens-Smith said no decision has been made on where the money would come from if the town agrees to participate in the project.

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