Thursday, May 14, 2009

Battle Lines

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.

David Goodemote

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.”

Mike Maynard

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.”

The Meeting
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

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

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.”

The Watchdog
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.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Let It Flow

Ideas Flying For Greenway Project Along The Naugatuck River In Waterbury

The Naugatuck River flows right through the center of Waterbury

Excitement during the 2nd Annual Naugatuck River Race

Hashing out plans during a greenway summit

One of the organizers of the river race, Kevin Zak, of the Naugatuck River Revival Group, addresses a pre-race gathering May 9th

An aerial map of the Naugatuck River generated lots of discussion on April 30th at Kennedy High School

During the past 50 years the spirit of Waterbury has slowly dehydrated like a grape shrivelling into a raisin. The once blustering civic spirit that forged an industrial powerhouse out of a treeless meadow has waned with economic loss, political corruption and systemic arguing.

Enter the healing power of water.

Water has the power to cleanse and nourish our souls. It also has the power to hydrate a dried raisin and make it swollen and plump again.

It was the convergence of seven streams and rivers that led the settlers to build the Mattatuck Plantation here. It was the awesome power of those rivers and streams that fired the grist mills and fueled the brass industry as the city rose to worldwide prominence. Water was the city’s biggest asset, and our ancestors acknowledged that fact when they changed the name from Mattatuck, to Waterbury. The city owns a world class water system that winds through Litchfield County, and the Water Department is the only city department that posts a profit every year.

Somewhere along the way the community lost it’s reverence for our rivers and streams and they became little more than liquid conveyor belts to move our waste and garbage south further down the Naugatuck Valley. Many city residents remember the days when the Naugatuck River was stained orange and red from industrial dyes, and the Naugatuck is one of the only documented rivers in America to actually catch fire from all the debris and pollutants clogging its arteries.

Times have changed.

The river runs clear again. The dams that blocked it for nearly 200 years are almost entirely removed, and the natural wildlife has returned. As the river healed, many area residents began a slow awakening to the extraordinary asset we had mistreated and abused for 200 years. Individuals began to kayak and paddle through Waterbury. Fisherman no longer feared eating the catch they yanked from the river. Bird watchers could see Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, and a lucky few spotted a lone Bald Eagle down in the Platts Mills section of the river.

Several years ago a small group of community minded activists sought to tap into the power of the river and build a greenway along its banks. A preliminary environmental study was completed, but the cash needed to implement the dream was shorter than a politician’s memory after election day.

The missing link was political will.

All that changed last Spring when the Naugatuck River Revival Group sponsored a six mile canoe and kayak race on the river, and had the brilliant idea to invite municipal leaders from up and down the river to compete.

What could have been a ho-hum race involving 20 experienced boaters was suddenly transformed into the event of the year when Waterbury Mayor Mike Jarjura promised to participate. State Senator Joan Hartley and aldermen Mike Telesca, Paul Pernerewski and Paul Noguira all braved the unknown to paddle from Platts Mills to Beacon Falls. Nobody knew what lay around the next bend and there was a sense of dread and excitement as 200 boats blasted off from Waterbury’s south end.

Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura in 2008, and some of the 250 boaters in 2009

The First Selectman of Beacon Falls, Susan Cables, participated, as did Chuck Frigon, the Town Manager in Watertown, and the mayors of Ansonia and Derby. An enormous amount of publicity was generated and photographs of a drenched Michael Jarjura crossing the finish line waving to the crowd seemed to epitomize the event. Jarjura’s canoe had flipped three times and he ruined his cell phone, but he had a blast. Other participants said the event was one of the most memorable of their life.

The importance of influential politicians in the event cannot be underestimated. The race was talked about for weeks, and then suddenly $4 million dollars was reallocated from a 2005 High Priority Federal Transportation Grant and directed towards creating a 7.1 mile greenway along the Naugatuck River.

Over the summer Mayor Jarjura formed a Greenway Advisory Committee and asked many influential community leaders to serve on it. Former mayoral candidate and long-time alderman, Ron Napoli, is the chairman of the committee. Kathleen McNamara, the community development coordinator for the Waterbury Development Corporation, is the vice-chairman. McNamara has been pushing for a greenway in the city for years and has been instrumental in nurturing the project from idea, to the cusp of reality.

Kathleen McNamara

“This is a great project,” McNamara said. “We tried it several years ago but the timing wasn’t right. Now we have tremendous momentum and great public participation. In the past ten years this is the most excited I’ve been about any project in the city.”

And while other communities up and down the Naugatuck River try to get their own greenway projects launched, Waterbury seems to be way ahead of the curve. In addition to the $4 million that now sits in the Connecticut Department of Transportation coffers for the Waterbury greenway, the city just recently applied for an additional $11.3 million in federal funding to advance the project.

But what exactly is a greenway?

In his book Greenways For America, Charles E. Little gives several possible definitions for a greenway. First, he says it is a linear open space established along either a natural corridor, such as a riverfront, stream valley, ridgeline, or overland along a railroad right of way converted to recreational use, a canal, a scenic road, or other route.

Second, Little defines a greenway as any natural or landscaped course for pedestrian or bicycle passage. Third, an open-space connector linking parks, nature reserves, cultural features, or historic sites within populated areas.

Greenways have exploded upon the national consciousness in the past 25 years, but in his book, Little credits Frederick Law Olmstead for inventing the idea of greenways. Olmstead was born in Hartford in 1822 and designed Central Park in the heart of New York City, and ironically, it was Olmstead who also designed Fulton Park in Waterbury.

In the introduction to his book, Little states greenways are “wonderfully rich and diverse - as rich and diverse as human ingenuity and topographical opportunity can make them.”

And in Waterbury the gears of imagination are just beginning to grind.

The Naugatuck River hugs Route 8 for several miles in Waterbury

While still in it’s conceptual stage, the multi-use greenway in Waterbury is imagined to provide a place for bikers, rollerbladers, walkers, and parents pushing their baby strollers up and down the Naugatuck River corridor. The greenway should provide entrance and exit points for kayaks and canoes. It should have educational components to interpret history and nature. It should have places for the community to gather to enjoy theater and concerts, and shops and restaurants to buy an ice cream or a beer.

The Mixmaster intersection of Route 8 and I-84

The Greenway Advisory Committee selected Alta Planning + Design from Saratoga Springs, NY, to plan a route for the greenway. The company was hired this Spring and their first step into the project was to conduct a community wide kick-off and brain storming session on April 30th at Kennedy High School where nearly 150 city residents showed up to participate.

Mayor Jarjura was the first to address the gathering and spent a few minutes talking about his participation in the 2nd Annual Naugatuck River Race being held May 9th, assuring everyone he would wear a helmet this time. “This project has the potential to alter the city,” Jarjura said. “Water is gold. If you have a waterway you have to do something to enhance the community.”

Alta’s Jeff Olson is managing the project in Waterbury and he has extraordinary experience planning and deigning similar projects around the country. Olson addressed the gathering at Kennedy High School and said the first thing he was there to do was listen to the community.

Jeff Olson of Alta Planning and Design

“We want to hear what ideas you have for the project,” Olson said, and then he broke the gathering into smaller splinter groups to work on various concepts and ideas. “I’ve done this all across the country and as you get started your community is way ahead of most communities,” Olson said. “You already have your mayor in a kayak and you have millions of dollars committed. This is fantastic.”

Starting a project with excellent digital maps, environmental studies in place, and a committed city administration gives Waterbury a big head start. Olson asked the gathering if they knew the meaning of the word Naugatuck, and several people knew it was an ancient Algonquian word for “Lone tree by the fishing place.”

As he spoke briefly about the greenway, Olson said “the Naugatuck River can become the unifying theme of this community”, and getting residents out walking, biking running and paddling “can have tremendous benefits on people’s health”.

Olson told the gathering of the importance of including public art in the project and shared a story about how England committed itself to a massive greenway project that included a spectacular amount of public art. In Waterbury there might be ways to connect to public art already in existence - the statues and monuments in downtown Waterbury, the Mattatuck Museum and Timexpo. The greenway can have little fingers or tentacles that shoot off into the community and neighborhoods to connect the city.

There was discussion during the night to try and link the greenway to the downtown UConn campus, to Municipal Stadium and to a proposed transportation center. Other ideas were to connect the greenway to Duggan School in Brooklyn, to the Huntington ballfields, to Fort Hill Cemetery, to neighborhood parks and special events. Another idea was to transform a car junk yard along the river into a park.

Designing a greenway from Waterbury city limits to Thomaston would be much easier than tackling the 7.1 mile stretch in Waterbury, through densely populated areas, factories, brownfields, abandoned bridges and beneath the mixmaster exchange where I-84 and Route 8 intersection. “If this were the Olympics,” Olson said. “The degree of difficulty with this project would be very high.”

From his experience, though, Olson said every greenway project is different. “Each one is an open book,” Olson said. “There are a lot of obstacles, but with innovation and creativity we can find solutions.”

There might be locations in Waterbury where the greenway will have to veer away from the river. There might be opportunities to build the greenway out over the river. In the end it will be Olson’s job to come back to the community and the Greenway Advisory Committee with options and estimated costs. “We’ll be looking for the best most workable solution,” Olson said. “Then it’s up to the community to decide what they want.”

And during the kick-off night at Kennedy High School the community was brimming with ideas. Some of the ideas were a sculpture park on the seven acres being donated to the city in the south end by Mimi Niederman, and to provide security along the entire greenway. Another idea was to create programs to teach city youngsters to ride bikes and to swim. Olson was excited about the idea to get Waterbury kids off computers and outside exercising. “The number of kids across the country who don’t know how to ride bikes and swim is alarming,” he said.

Mimi Niederman is donating seven acres of riverfront property in the South End of Waterbury

At the end of the evening Olson tried to summarize the event. “I was asked by the Waterbury Development Corporation to come and inspire the community. Instead it is me who has been inspired.” Olson said it is usually at the first meetings that individuals come up with pitch forks and rotten fruit to criticize the project, but in Waterbury there was absolutely no negativity.

“There are people out there opposed to this,” Olson said, “and we’ll hear from them.”

Or maybe not.

Waterbury has been so bogged down in bickering and a loss of civic pride, that maybe this project along the river will provide the healing this community so desperately needs. In Charles Little’s book about greenways he wrote “For a 100 years urban rivers have been relegated to the ugliest of urban functions - sewage disposal, heavy industrial sites and garbage disposal. Inevitably the river corridors became a kind of no man’s land, dividing cities, economically and socially - the poor on one side, the rich on the other.”

But, Little writes, times have changed. “The ugly functions have been replaced and when cities discover this the impulse is strong to establish a greenway project along the river front. And then a miracle happens. The river begins to join the people of the city together, rather than separate them. What was once an open wound begins to heal itself, and the city along with it.”