Plans To Transform Anamet To Clean BioFuel Generator Meets Public Resistence. Company Has Troublesome Past.
The Anamet site has been dormant for nearly a decade.
Saverio Romanelli of the Waterbury Environmental Control Commission questioned Chestnut Hill BioFuel during its March 2009 presentation.
Old equipment decaying inside Anamet
On the surface it sounds like a terrific idea.
Chestnut Hill BioEnergy is proposing to purchase the Anamet property on South Main Street in Waterbury and transform the shuttered buildings, which have lay dormant for 9 years, into a clean energy project. The gist of the proposal is to take up to 54 truckloads of food waste a day and transform it into electricity.
The company will knock down an abandoned building along the Naugatuck River which used to generate steam and electric power for Anamet, a massive company that made metal hoses in the south end of Waterbury for 72 years, and turn a Brownfield into a taxable business that will put money in city coffers.
The plant would employ 40 to 50 people and tax revenue from the property would increase at least ten times. Sounds great, huh? Well, as usual, the devil is in the details. And upon closer inspection, some of the details don’t smell so good.
A few years ago David Goodemote – the man driving the proposal in Waterbury - was the president of Eastern Organic Resources which ran the Woodhue Composting Center in Springfield, New Jersey. The business took in 100 tons of wood chips, food waste, brush, and cardboard a day, and transformed the stew into compost they would resell to landscapers, garden centers and contractors.
Food waste compacter behind a local Stop and Shop
Goodemote proclaimed his company to be environmentally friendly, but his neighbors had a different story – they called the composting center an obnoxious and destructive force in the neighborhood. The neighbors complained about a foul odor coming from the composting plant, and one neighbor, George Nicholson, worried that the foul air from Eastern Organic Resources caused respiratory infections among the racehorses on his farm.
In 2006 the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection hammered Eastern Organic with a $1.5 million fine for polluting the air and water, and committing administrative violations. Among the charges was that Eastern Organic had illegally discharged contaminated water into wetlands and a nearby brook. In an article in the August 6th, 2006 issue of the New York Times, David Goodemote said the accusations were unfair, and stated the company’s problems could be resolved by enclosing the facility and trapping the air and water inside.
Goodemote said New Jersey would not allow him the permits to do that. Frustrated, the composting plant was morphed into a solar energy farm and Goodemote set out to find a new home for his food recycling enterprise. After searching several states, and visiting sites around Connecticut, Goodemote zeroed in on the Anamet property, nestled between South Main Street and the Naugatuck River.
“New Jersey was not willing to work with us,” Goodemote said at a meeting in Waterbury recently, “but Connecticut and Massachusetts are.”
The key, according to Goodemote, is to obtain the proper permits to contain composting in an airtight process at the Anamet facility and trap all contaminated water and air inside. With the facility closed in, Goodemote said, there would be no odor problem in the South End, and no contaminated water seeping into the Naugatuck River. Mike Maynard, of Chestnut Hill BioEnergy, was also at the March meeting of the Waterbury Environmental Control Commission. Maynard said his company is not shy about talking about their “painful experience in New Jersey.”
“There are lessons learned,” he said. “We need to pay careful attention to odor control and the only way to do that is to close it in.”
Goodemote and Maynard said their problems in New Jersey arose from “political shifts” that thwarted their efforts to close in the facility. “The Connecticut DEP has been to our facility in New Jersey,” Goodemote said. “It is the largest composting facility on the East Coast. We know the key is to get our permit first.”
On a drizzling night in late March, Chestnut Hill BioEnergy gave a power point presentation about their Anamet site proposal to the Waterbury Environmental Control Commission. The company has been making the rounds for months trying to drum up support for their project, and opposition is beginning to stir. Neighborhood groups are e-mailing each other to muster troops to oppose the project. Members of the Waterbury Greenway Advisory Committee are paying close attention to the proposal as they plan a 7 mile multi-use trail along the Naugatuck River. Images of a multi-million dollar Greenway next to a plant processing food waste – operated by a company with a history of air and water violations - has given members pause.
The Anamet site is directly on the east bank of the Naugatuck River.
Greenway Advisory Committee Chairman Ron Napoli poses questions
After Chestnut Hill BioEnergy finished its presentation, Ron Napoli, the chairman of the Greenway Committee, rose to address the group. He said residents in the South End have had prior experience with serious odors from the city’s Waste Water Treatment Plant that had impacted their ability to enjoy their property. Napoli said that consultants studied the problem and said the odors had come from inside the plant. Napoli concluded by saying “odors could be the worst thing to happen to our Greenway project.”
Goodemote and Maynard assured Napoli that there would be no odors escaping from their composting process and that they would like to participate in the Greenway project. They would be happy to allow the Greenway a trail right through their property, they said.
Dick Scappini asked the presenters what control they had over the dozens of trucks that would deliver food waste to the plant each day. Goodemote and Maynard said they didn’t own the trucks and they would rely on independent haulers.
“I can’t say there will never be a leak,” Goodemote said. “There will be leaks and there will be a consequence to the hauler.”
The trucks will mostly haul compactors, not packers, greatly reducing spillage and leakage. Scappini wanted to know what happens when a leak occurs. Who cleans it up? What is the city’s recourse?
Goodemote said the haulers would be fined.
Close attention was paid to which route the trucks would use to get in and out of Waterbury. Goodemote said there would be no residential traffic, no impact on schools, no trucks on South Main Street, and that trucks could only operate from 6 am to 6 pm, and not at all on Sunday. The trucks would have a fairly easy entrance into the plant, but exiting proved more troublesome, with initial plans to route the trucks past the Brass Mill Mall.
Anamet's close proximity to St. Anne's Church proposed Loyola Project has raised concern.
Environmental Control Commission member Art Denze wanted to know “Why Waterbury?”, and he was concerned about building a Greenway “next to a garbage disposal.”
Steve Schrag is the head of the commission and he also wanted to know how and why Waterbury was selected for the project. Goodemote and Maynard told him that a multi agency task force and the state Department of Economic and Community Development had given the company a list of communities to consider: Hartford, Waterbury, New Haven, Bridgeport and Meriden.
“We had to be along a highway,” Goodemote said. “And we needed to be centrally located in the state’s population density. When we looked at the Anamet site we fell in love with it. We couldn’t build a site like that for less than $500 a square foot. This was far and way the best site we found. The building is impregnable. We can easily make it airtight.”
Larry De Pillo has been a community activist in Waterbury for 30 years. He has been a mayoral candidate in Waterbury four times and was instrumental in forming the Independent Party in the city. To some people Larry De Pillo is an obstructionist, a man who stands up at almost every aldermanic meeting to rail against some proposal or another. To others, De Pillo is a man of integrity who challenges the political structure in Waterbury and keeps the powerful on their toes.
Whether he’s a pebble in the shoe, or a champion for the people - or both - it’s hard not to notice Larry De Pillo.
Larry De Pillo
De Pillo is strongly against the Chestnut Hill BioEnergy proposal for two reasons. “I don’t think this type of business belongs in a location where a lot of people live,” De Pillo told the Observer. “And #2, the people making this proposal are the same ones that experienced big problems in New Jersey.”
De Pillo said he called the DEP in New Jersey and was told “they had feet worth of files on the company, that they had conducted a horrendous operation and were shut down.”
When Chestnut Hill BioEnergy made an invitation only presentation to the Waterbury Board of Aldermen last year, De Pillo contacted Waterbury Mayor Mike Jarjura to see if he might gain access to the meeting. Jarjura told De Pillo he was unable to attend, and that De Pillo could go in his place. When the meeting started, Board of Education member John Theriault and Republican-American reporter Michael Puffer were denied access because they hadn’t been invited.
“That’s no way to treat an elected official and a member of the press,” De Pillo said.
As the meeting unfolded there was no mention of the company’s problems in New Jersey. De Pillo said he asked if they had any prior experience running an operation like they were proposing in Waterbury, and they said they had. De Pillo wrote the name of the operation down, and after the meeting he went home and entered the name in a Google search on the internet.
De Pillo was stunned.
He found articles in the New York Times that documented the company’s failures in New Jersey. De Pillo gathered information and produced a small booklet about the company’s only previous effort to run a food waste composting facility. Then he called Mayor Jarjura and requested a meeting.
“The Mayor was nice enough to give me his invitation so I wanted to tell him what I saw and heard,” De Pillo said. “When I showed him the booklet he was very surprised, and very concerned.”
De Pillo called the Connecticut DEP and “ripped them new backsides”, he said. “Then when I talked to the guy in charge of issuing permits he said he didn’t know who they were. Despite what the company officials say, the DEP is not onboard with their proposal.”
De Pillo accuses Chestnut Hill BioEnergy of misrepresenting Waterbury’s concerns when they are lobbying for the project in Hartford. “They are telling legislators that everyone in Waterbury is onboard with the concept,” De Pillo said. “This is a lie. Right now I don’t know anyone in Waterbury who is supporting this concept.”
And to De Pillo, this is already more than a concept. “They have a professional presentation they are taking around and it seems to be the same one they used in New Jersey to try and get their permit down there,” De Pillo said. “ New Jersey told them to go pound sand, and we should say the same thing.”
One of De PIllo’s greatest fears is that the project is never brought forward in Waterbury to gain city board approval. “This is all a horse and pony show to get approval from the Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC),” De Pillo said. “This company is trying to ram this through the DPUC and the Siting Council and then it won’t matter what the DEP and Waterbury have to say about it.”
De Pillo said he is not opposed to the concept of recycling food waste into energy, he just doesn’t think the Anamet site in the place to do it, or Chestnut Hill BioEnergy the company to run it.
The Observer asked De Pillo if he were the mayor, what would he do about this situation.
“I would request a meeting with top DPUC members, top siting council members, and top members from the Clean Energy Fund. I would want to know how Chestnut Hill BioEnergy has been representing Waterbury and where they are in the process,” De Pillo said. “It is time for Mayor jarjura and the Waterbury Development Corporation to intervene before it is too late.”
The Waterbury Development Corporation (WDC) is the City of Waterbury’s official economic and community development agency, and Leo Frank is the executive director. Franks said WDC showed Chestnut Hill BioEnergy a few sites in Waterbury, but has not passed judgement on the project.
“We are a sales force showing people properties and trying to stimulate the local economy,” Frank said. “Just because we showed this company the Anamet site doesn’t mean we are a proponent for their plans. We are a proponent for Waterbury.”
Frank met with the company 18 months ago and said Chestnut Hill BioEnergy explained the problems they had experienced in New Jersey. “ I told them you can expect a fierce battle in Waterbury,” Frank said. “ The South End has had problems with high traffic proposals in dense population areas before.”
Frank had addressed the Greenway Advisory Committee a month ago and told the group that Chestnut Hill BioEnergy had no traction and was no where on the radar screen. “When I said that I didn’t know they had received a $500,000 loan from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund,” Frank said. “But right now WDC has no opinion about the proposal.”
Franks said WDC “doesn’t get too emotional. We try to stay neutral, but if the mayor wants us to get involved, we will.”