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Bulfalmante seeks Amenia zoning change

Tons of leaves and grass clippings from NYC and Westchester to be composted at the Route 22 site
by Antonia Shoumatoff
Mon Jan 25th, 2016

Proposed site of composting facility

Yet another environmentally-significant application is now before the Town of Amenia --- this time it’s a solid waste composting operation off Route 22 near Route  343.  An environmental assessment form (EAF) has been filed with the town for a review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) as the first step in applying for a change in the zoning law.  The Zoning Law specifically states that solid waste composting operations are prohibited. 

Although the EAF is only 13 pages, the applicant has submitted an additional 99 pages of supporting evidence.  They show on their maps that their project will sit on a primary aquifer that the town is obliged to protect according to its own laws.  The applicant states that it will lay down a three acre pad of concrete pavement to protect the aquifer.  A 30-foot high building 160 feet in length will be constructed in which compost will be processed and bagged.   The plant is expected to process up to 100,000 tons of grass clippings and leaves from NYC and Westchester parks, golf courses and town facilities that are maintained by the Blufalmante landscaping firm from Westchester.

The Town of Amenia has a long and tragic history of solid waste abuses by truckers who found it a convenient place to dump toxic materials.   The Old Amenia Landfill which was found to contain PCB’s, toxic metals and other carcinogenic chemicals has  just undergone a multi-million dollar clean-up.  The Sarney site was a huge superfund clean-up site before that.  A petroleum-contaminated mining site in Wassaic was also recently cleaned up.  The area has a highly permeable sand and gravel substrate which makes the aquifers more vulnerable to pollutants.

Town code # 121-50 states that “Solid waste management facilities…..with the exception of municipally-owned and operated facilities, shall be prohibited in the Town of Amenia.” The master plan delineates what uses are allowed over aquifers.

A composting facility is not one of them.  

The Conservation Advisory Council made a recommendation in December that the town”not consider” the application because it is a use that is specifically prohibited by the town’s zoning and planning laws. 

The CAC’s letter explained:

“The [Amenia] CAC met and extensively discussed the proposed Bulfamante composting site and the zoning language change needed to facilitate this project. We came to the conclusion that this project, as proposed at this location, should not be considered by the town board. We feel that, as it is the town board’s right to do so, the board should simply say no and terminate the process now.”

“The project, which will eventually process 100,000 cubic yards of solid waste per year, has the potential of contaminating the groundwater in the area. The two aquifers beneath the site are highly permeable; there is a real potential that contaminated groundwater from the site will migrate offsite and significantly affect other water users. Tally Ho Estates, whose well is in the very permeable sand and gravel aquifer, is only 3,500 feet south and downgrade from the proposed project. 

Besides Tally Ho, there are hundreds of wells in the southern part of Amenia as well as in the town of Dover Plains that get their water from the same aquifers.”

“It is the CAC’s strongly-held opinion that the town board should just stop the re-zoning process now. Supporting evidence is presented here in the rest of this document. It will be helpful to have read the “Groundwater in Amenia” section from the Amenia Natural Resource Inventory in understanding and interpreting the following material. I sent you this a short time ago.”  

The letter was signed by
David Reagon, the CAC chairman.

Despite the recommendations of the Conservation Advisory Council, the town has entertained the application.  It has declared itself the lead agency for the project’s environmental review, the first step in the SEQRA process.  Board members say they welcome new businesses: they see higher tax assessments and job opportunities. 

Environmental specialists recommend composting at the source where the materials are generated.  They cite the danger of introducing non-native species, which is possible when debris is moved.   

Erik Kiviat of Hudsonia told us that he found Amur honeysuckle (Loncera maackii) at a site in the Catskills although this nonnative shrub is rare north of Westchester.  He thinks it was brought in by a composting facility that imported wastes from Westchester.  These non-native species can spread and outcompete native species.  This is already happening with the mile-a-minute vine and Japanese Knotweed that has been found in Wingdale and Amenia. 

“I don't see why composting can't be done within, say, five miles of waste generation. Not only will this help keep weeds from spreading rapidly, but it will also conserve a lot of energy in the gasoline, tires, etc. of trucks transporting the organic waste,”  Kiviat told us. 

The DEC has indicated that it is up to the town to decide whether to allow it.  The DEC will not issue a permit until these local land use issues are resolved.

The town will now have to fully analyze the environmental consequences of amending the zoning to allow for a new use, which may set a precedent for future variances to the zoning law, in direct conflict with the town’s comprehensive plan and code.  This will require a process with consultants, attorneys’ fees and public hearings that could go on for a year or two. 

A neighbor, Carol Slotnik, who owns an historic building nearby, is worried about the smell and other impacts.  She has already appeared twice before the town board to voice her concerns. She is investing in restoring the building and has plans for a small agricultural operation, growing plants on the property. Other neighbors have complained as well.

The CAC analysis concluded that: “The site partially overlies the Stockbridge formation, which is classified as the Valley Bottom Aquifer. This aquifer has special status in the Amenia Aquifer Overlay District.  It’s extremely important to keep this water supply pristine.”

The full application can be seen here: