The Quantum Biopower anaerobic digester plant in Southington, Connecticut, which CEA Energy has pointed to as an example of the type of plant the company would build at EPCAL.

The Town Board will hear from the public on Tuesday on proposed code to allow and regulate the location of anaerobic digestion facilities within the Town of Riverhead.

Anaerobic digestion facilities use biological processes in an oxygen-free environment to convert source-separated food wastes to biogas and compost products, which can be sold. The town is considering allowing the use in the Planned Industrial Park zoning district located in the Calverton Enterprise Park. 

The code would only allows facilities that do not accept, treat or process biosolids or sewage sludge from wastewater treatment facilities. The use would be allowed only by special permit of the Town Board. The Town Board would also be the town entity responsible for the project’s site plan review.

The public hearing on the proposed code is scheduled for the Dec. 20 Town Board meeting, which begins at 2 p.m.

CEA Energy, a Melville company, has been trying to build an anaerobic digestion facility within the industrial park for the past few years. When the company first applied in 2019, the application was denied by the town’s zoning officer because the use, although not specifically permitted nor specifically prohibited by the zoning at the site, was “akin to specifically prohibited uses” that process waste. 

The company applied again earlier this year and was denied for the same reason. The company appealed the determination to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which upheld the town zoning officer’s determination. In its decision, the ZBA also urged the Town Board to consider adding the use to the code.

During CEA Energy’s appeal to the ZBA, the Town Board considered banning the food-to-waste energy facilities in the town entirely. 

The board held a public hearing on the proposed ban in June, during which community members expressed tentative support for the use, but said the town should consider allowing smaller-scale facilities that are sized to handle the volume of food waste produced in Riverhead, rather than food waste from out of town. That recommendation is not reflected in the proposed code.

The residents also urged the board to study the use in the town’s comprehensive plan update.

Following the public hearing on the ban, CEA Energy representatives pitched their plan to build an anaerobic digestion facility during a Town Board work session, and urged the board to adopt code allowing the use. Board members were still hesitant about the facility coming to the town, but never acted on the local law codifying the prohibition of the use.

The board discussed a proposal allowing the use during a work session Oct. 27, with Council Member Bob Kern and Planner Matt Charters leading the conversation. Council Member Ken Rothwell and Supervisor Yvette Aguiar suggested during the discussion modifying the code to only allow the anaerobic digestion facility to receive food waste from locations within a certain distance of the facility, in order to limit truck traffic. No such requirements were included in the final draft.

Board members voted on Dec. 6 to set the public hearing on the use, with members of the public opposed to the resolution, along with another resolution setting a public hearing to codify battery energy storage systems as a use. Those members of the public said the town had not assessed the impacts of the uses in the 2003 comprehensive plan, and advocated for the comp plan update to assess their impacts before adopting the code. The public also criticized the timing of the hearing — which will be held during an afternoon meeting just before Christmas — and said it would ensure low turnout and public participation. 

Council members Tim Hubbard and Frank Beyrodt attempted to table the resolution setting the public hearing on proposed code allowing anaerobic digestion facilities during the meeting, but their motion was voted down by the other three board members. 

Though Beyrodt supported the motion to table, he also supported scheduling the hearing, leaving Hubbard as the lone board member to vote against setting the hearing. He has maintained the Town Board should not move ahead with codifying new uses while the comp plan update is in progress.

Read the full proposed code below. 2022_1220_anerobic-digester-code

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: