MAKING A STINK

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In the latest offensive in a 14-year fight by Hunts Point residents against a plant that processes about half of the city’s sludge, a neighborhood development group sent a letter this month to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recommending it shut down the odor-emitting plant.

The Point Community Development Corporation letter alleges the DEC has allowed the New York Organic Fertilizer Company (NYOFCo) to operate with outstanding violations, such as letting untreated sludge seep into the East River and drip onto surrounding streets, and without necessary permits. Through a smelly process, the plant converts the dewatered end product of city waste treatment facilities into fertilizer pellets. Most of the pellets go to fertilizer blenders in Florida, who tailor the chemistry of the pellets to the acidity level needed in citrus groves. Over the years, Hunts Point residents have flooded 311 with calls complaining about the stench.

“We don’t think a facility should be allowed to operate like that when it’s so close to schools and homes and parks,” said The Point Executive Managing Director Kellie Terry-Sepulveda.

The Point’s letter, composed by the Columbia Law School Environmental Law Clinic, caught the attention of public officials. Congressman José Serrano, with a reputation for bringing federal funds for environmental projects in the South Bronx, said certain details caught him by surprise. “I had not fully understood the impact of the plant on our waterways until I saw the Environmental Law Clinic document,” he said in a statement.

NYOFCo General Manager John Z. Kopec responded in a letter to the Environmental Law Clinic last week refuting the portrayal of the plant as a bad neighbor, saying that there are factual inaccuracies in the letter sent to DEC. “Each of the operational issues you raise has either already been addressed, or is in the process of being addressed,” he said in the letter. The plant is undergoing at least $1.3 million worth of upgrades to decrease air emissions, including an air-lock extension to the biosolids receiving building to prevent odor leakage, according to the letter.

The DEC refused last week to comply with recommendations listed in The Point’s letter, citing an agreement – called a “consent order” – they entered with the plant in 2004 to address previous violations. “Currently, DEC is working with the facility to ensure that the renewal application and modifications are consistent with the consent order,” DEC spokesperson Kimberly Chupa said.

Other community efforts in this dispute remain under way. Last year, some groups joined with the Sustainable South Bronx community organization to purchase enough stock in Houston-based Synagro Technologies, the parent company of NYOFCo, to file a shareholder resolution recommending the plant publish a report on how it affects the environment. This March, 31 percent of Synagro stockholders voted to pass the resolution and executives are currently in negotiations with the shareholders. The company expects to have this report early 2007.

The shareholder activists expect this report to generate community dialogue, and support The Point’s letter calling for the facility’s shutdown. “It’s further evidence of the serious concerns that the community has been raising for years,” said Elena Conte, solid waste and energy coordinator for Sustainable South Bronx. “It’s a real reflection of how the company is (perceived) in the neighborhood.” [08/28/06]