The building that housed Grumman's steam plant located on the United Metro Energy property at EPCAL. The rail spur into the industrial park runs along side the building. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The company seeking to build a food waste energy plant in Riverhead is in talks with United Metro Energy about locating a facility at United’s site in the Calverton Enterprise Park, according to United consultant Victor Prusinowski.

Prusinowski, who along with United’s vice chairman Nelson Happy was present at the Feb. 14 town board work session when CEA Energy presented its concept, said he approached CEA principal Mark Lembo that day about possibility of locating the food waste plant at United’s property in the industrial park.

“It seems like it could be a perfect fit,” Prusinowski said after the work session last month. “I told him we’d like to talk to him about it.”

Prusinowski said today that CEA and United are indeed in “preliminary negotiations.”

United is interested in siting the facility in the building that formerly housed the steam plant that provided heat for the manufacturing buildings at the former Grumman plant in Calverton, Prusinowski said. The building is located along the rail spur in the industrial park, which would allow the waste-to-energy plant to receive waste by rail. It is also located “within about 500 yards” of an existing natural gas line, according to Prusinowski.

“Honestly, it seems like a no-brainer,” he said.

CEA Energy’s plan is to convert food waste to natural gas in an anaerobic digestion facility. It currently has a project pending in North Haven, Connecticut, Lembo told the Riverhead Town Board last month.

CEA proposed a partnership with the Town of Riverhead, which would provide town-owned land on Youngs Avenue for the facility and a $500,000 investment over two years — which would cover “soft costs” of permitting and design. The company would build a pipeline to connect the plant to the nearest natural gas line, which Lembo said was likely no less than two miles south of the site, on Route 58. The project would have projected annual net revenues just shy of $4 million, which Lembo said would be split 50-50 by CEA and the town.

Residents in the area voiced concerns about the project’s proposed location — the 12.7-acre site formerly occupied by the town animal shelter. Although it is opposite the now-capped and closed landfill and adjacent to Crown Recycling, residential development in the surrounding area make new industrial uses inappropriate, neighbors protested.

Town board members, who reacted favorably to the proposal at the Feb. 14 work session, backed off after the residents’ protests and have not publicly discussed the proposal since.

Lembo did not return a call or email seeking comment. 

Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the prospect of siting the waste-to-energy facility at EPCAL raises questions that would need to be answered. She said she isn’t sure it’s an allowed use under the current zoning. That would have to be examined she said, as well as potential environmental impacts of the facility if the use is allowed.

 “If the waste is coming in by rail, that opens up the possibility of the amount of waste being processed increasing,” Jens-Smith said. “It could be an incredibly large project.” If so, she said, the town would have to look at where wastes would be stored and odor control, among other things.

Jens-Smith also noted that a large-scale anaerobic digester to convert food waste to energy is being planned for a site in the Town of Brookhaven. The Long Island Power Authority Board of Trustees voted last week to approve a contract with American Organic Energy at Long Island Compost in Yaphank. That facility will process approximately 180,000 tons of food waste per year. It is expected to be operational in 2020, according to a press release issued last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.