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Citizens Heard Loud and Clear: Composting Operation Will Not Be Allowed

Amenia Upholds Its Zoning Laws
by Antonia Shoumatoff
Sat Feb 20th, 2016

During a grueling four-hour long meeting, dozens of Amenia citizens spoke out at a Town Board meeting  to protest a proposed composting application that is near their properties.  They were concerned about their water, the smell, the dust, the traffic, their property values and precedents to changing the zoning law.  The citizens were from Tally Ho Estates (a quarter mile from the proposed composting), May Lane, and other neighbors along Rte. 22.

Wendy M. [all residents did not want their last names used] of Tally Ho Estates said:  “This really bothers me because clean water is something you cannot replace.  People just do not want this here.  The name Amenia means “Beautiful to the Eye” It’s not going to be beautiful to the eye its going to be smelly to the nose.”

The property at 3510 Rte. 22 belongs to Anthony Bulfalmante who has a landscaping concern that services parks and towns in lower Westchester and Manhattan.  The operation proposes to bring hundreds of cubic yards of yard waste per year to turn into compost to sell to contractors.  His EAF application was submitted to the town in the last month and is 200 pages long.  The proposal includes a state of the art aerating system.

Former Supervisor, Janet Reagon said: “Once the aquifer is contaminated it is very difficult to clean up. It is a favor to the developer to stop it now to prevent him from spending too much money on the SEQR process if you are just stringing him along only to say it is not within our zoning requirements, that is not fair.”

The town’s zoning does not allow any solid waste operations unless they are municipally owned and operated.  Composting is considered to be a solid waste activity which is specifically prohibited by the town’s zoning law.

Former Zoning Board Chair, Leo Blackman had written a letter to the Town Board before the meeting saying that the application had come before his board when he was still chair and that his board could not provide a zoning exemption for the activity, because it would have been considered “spot zoning,” and a bad precedent.

He added that “materials, other than yard waste,” had been added to the composting operation that exists on the site of the former transfer station, on the “valley bottom, directly on top of the town’s aquifer” [that operation was grandfathered in].

“I know from my experience on the ZBA that the town has a serious problem with monitoring and correcting code violations…..if large volumes of ‘yard waste’ are being hauled up to this facility and deposited, the town is simply unable to monitor this….We know that yard waste can carry pesticides, chemicals and even invasive plant and insect species….While this composting operation promises a few new jobs, it guarantees adding hundreds of big heavy trucks to our roadways, bringing traffic, smells and noise that will negatively impact the quality of life for Amenia residents.”

Rosemary Lejsky, speaking on behalf of Tally Ho Estates said: “I just want to live in peace and be able to go outside.  If we let this project happen, will we be be able to even sell our homes?  You are taking away our retirement investments. Would you do this to your yards? Would you want your families to live next to this?”

Brad Rebillard who lives near the Gromax composting operation in Wassaic said: “In the past, with sites like this there is no policing power to see what was coming in.  I live next to the Allen property where there is composting and it has not been properly monitored by the town.”

Jeanne Rebillard added: “I have smelled terrible odors from the Allen composting operation, smelled and seen fires in the summers there since I live nearby. I complained and nothing happened.”  

Bulfalmante defended his application saying:  “We will be a state-regulated facility.  I have been on the Allen property. It is not an aerated static pile. Our facility will not be like that.   There will be no sawdust, no smell, no dust  Our parks are 100% organic facilities…..lawn clippings have pesticides, yes.  But the contamination will be burnt away. My clients are Trump, Bloomberg and Tischman.”

Nina Peek, former Planning Board Chair said: “ You are asking this Board to change our law.  If you are currently composting on your property right now it is illegal. In order for you to have this operation, this board has to change their zoning.  Our law does not allow composting at this time.”  

Bulfalmante countered saying:  “I am allowed to do 3,000 yards of composting without permits.  This property is taxable, an opportunity for employment.  I have opportunity for machine loaders, office workers and others.  I want my workforce to be from the town.”

Another Tally Ho resident said: “We don’t want this to become Flint Michigan….a lot of us live here and we won’t vote for you if you put this here.”  

Bulfalmante said that the town people would be able to bring their yard waste there and that he would make the compost available.  He also said that his facilities would have more sophisticated equipment than McEnroe’s which have a $6,000 turners which creates fines and dust in the air.   “I can create compost in four to six weeks.”

“We were in the Town of Washington on Christian Hill Rd. off 343 for 30 years, we are known in this area.” 

Issues about stormwater run-off with the leachate during 100-year storms were also brought up. Mark Doyle said that 100 year flood plain statistics do not apply to the present.  But Bulfalmante said the water will be absorbed.  The question of lining the holding pond with rubber was also addressed. Bulfalmante said he would truck off the leachate to a facility in Danbury.

Marco D’Antonio, the Town’s water operator, said that the town’s laws can be stricter than the County and the State and that a Phase II investigation of the property should be done.  

Vicki Doyle, Town Councilwoman said:  We are concerned about bringing in invasive pests such as the Emerald Ashborer, if you were local and doing local composting we would consider it more carefully but we have to consider the feelings of the neighbors who did not expect this to happen in their residential neighborhoods.

At that point Vicki Doyle made a motion to deny the application for a zoning variance.  She said that the application was not justified for several reasons: it is not allowed, the town does not want waste brought in from so far away, the applicant had stated that he wanted to be here because the land prices were cheaper, and that the board needed to serve the residents and the residents had spoken unanimously that they did not want the composting near their houses.

A vote was taken and Victoria Perotti, Gretchen Hitselberger, Damian Gutierrez and Vicki Doyle voted to deny the application.  Only Mike DeLango voted for it.

DeLango was very upset by the vote: “We should have looked this more carefully and gone through it to see if we wanted to have this project.  The reason we are up here is to make informed decisions.  Our consultants, planners were all for this.” 

Nina Peek responded:  “You got 200 pages of information, your consultants reviewed it, you got comment letters, DEC, a lot of people who live here commented.  They provided you with all of this work.  Your board reviewed all of this and made an informed decision based on all of this.”

Janet Reagon told TMI after the meeting: 

“This was democracy in action:  the applicant was given a fair and respectful hearing, and the people had their say.  I was very gratified that four of the five Town Board members listened to the community and voted down the project.”