Blogs > Ecology > Riverkeeper opposes waste facility on the Hudson River in Rensselaer

Riverkeeper opposes waste facility on the Hudson River in Rensselaer


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BioHiTech proposal at former BASF hazardous waste site raises serious environmental concerns in a community already burdened with heavy pollution.

Riverkeeper is joining local residents in opposing a waste processing facility proposed for construction on top of a hazardous waste site next to the Hudson River in the City of Rensselaer, N.Y. The project and its operations are known under the names Rensselaer Resource Recovery, Rensselaer Engineered Fuels, BioHiTech and Entsorga.

The proposed facility would sit on top of a capped toxic waste site, the former BASF property, where existing contamination affects the soil, groundwater, and nearby riverbed. It would accept constant shipments of municipal garbage. Trucks would make about 82 trips in and out of the facility every day, according to the applicant. Metals would be extracted. Plastic, paper and other municipal waste would be shredded and trucked away to cement plants where it would be burned. The remaining waste would be dumped in unnamed landfills or garbage incinerators.

Initially described in public meetings as a mere “composting facility,” the proposal raises numerous, serious concerns for the river, the environment and the surrounding community. It has undergone only an abbreviated environmental review by the City of Rensselaer Planning Commission and still requires New York State permits. Despite the potential impacts, the City of Rensselaer Planning Commission – the lead agency under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act – shockingly concluded that the project did not pose a significant impact on the environment and therefore did not require an Environmental Impact Statement.

Additional procedural failures are evident in the applicant’s barebones attempt at an enhanced public participation plan, as required by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation due to its proximity to a potential Environmental Justice area. Though the plan should allow enhanced accessibility for fair treatment and meaningful involvement of the community, the most recent outreach attempt was a poorly advertised virtual meeting held on June 4. The Applicant must ensure that the Rensselaer community is fully informed and engaged throughout a process to fulfill its environmental justice requirements.

In a letter to Rensselaer Resource Recovery, Riverkeeper and members of the community demanded a full environmental review and thorough consideration of the community’s concerns.

Why not welcome a company that says it will not damage the environment?

Here are a few reasons:

• Leachate from the new operation – contaminated liquid from the waste decomposition process – would likely go into the local sewage treatment plant, become blended with the community’s wastewater and be discharged to the Hudson River. Sewage treatment plants are not designed to remove all contaminants contained in leachate from municipal waste. And the Rensselaer combined sewage system is subject to frequent overflows during rainstorms that send untreated sewage directly into the Hudson River. Contaminants from leachate, whether diluted or not, should NOT be allowed to poison the river. Contaminants are easily transported within the river, which serves as critical habitat, and in certain areas, a source of drinking water.

• Placing a massive facility on top of a hazardous waste site creates a risk that buried contaminants could surface and migrate into the Hudson.

• The presence of a facility on top of the hazardous waste could prevent further remediation work at the site that may be necessary in the future to control contamination.

• The new facility and its truck traffic would add to a heavy burden of pollution and environmental damage in this area. Nearby are a massive asphalt receiving facility, the Rensselaer Cogeneration gas-fired power plant, a major Amtrak hub and the Dunn Construction and Demolition debris landfill, situated next to a pre-K to 12 public school. Across the river is the Global oil terminal. The impacts from the proposed BioHiTech facility would only contribute further to the existing burden on the health and well-being of Rensselaer residents.

• The project is located on a floodplain. Sea level rise and periodic flooding increase the possibility that contaminants in the existing toxic waste site and the proposed facility would be washed into the river. Contaminated sites should not be tolerated on the shorelines of the Hudson.

The company has a similar facility in West Virginia. It plans to ship plastic and paper waste from the Rensselaer location to cement plants in Pennsylvania for incineration. One of the cement plants is Lafarge, which also has a location in Coeymans, N.Y. While the company expressed that it does not intend to send the material to Lafarge in Coeymans, it declined to make a binding commitment.

In a letter in November 2019, DEC Regional Director Keith Goertz expressed “grave concerns” to then-Mayor Richard Mooney about the abbreviated environmental review led by the city’s Planning Commission, saying, “it is unclear how the City of Rensselaer could have determined that the Project does not involve at least one potential significant adverse impact.”

Because of numerous potential environmental impacts, the project should undergo a full environmental review.

Riverkeeper, in its letter submitted Friday and signed by several area residents and allied groups, called on Rensselaer Resource Recovery, New York State DEC and the City of Rensselaer Planning Commission to acknowledge the woeful deficiencies in the Environmental Justice process and properly consider the community concerns. Riverkeeper also calls on the city to reopen the environmental review process and require a full environmental impact statement for the project.

Victoria Leung, Riverkeeper Associate Staff Attorney, said:
“The many deficiencies in the environmental review process and the inaccessibility of information about the project present a significant threat to the Hudson and an unacceptable barrier to the public participation of the Rensselaer community. Rensselaer Resource Recovery must at least commit to completing an environmental impact statement to remedy these failures.”

John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper Patrol Boat Captain and Vice President of Advocacy, said:
“Toxic leachate from industrial sites, discharged through the sewer system, is an all-too-common problem along the Hudson – and this project threatens to add more of it. Local wastewater treatment plants are not designed to take contaminants out of the toxic ‘tea’ leaching out from landfills. Any project planned for the BASF site should have an on-site water treatment system. The river should not have to bear the burden of more industrial poisons.”

Judith Enck, former Region 2 Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said:
“I’m strongly opposed to this. This is exactly what we don’t need on the Hudson River. This is not sustainable solid waste management. The residents of Rensselaer and East Greenbush are already struggling with the large number of garbage trucks entering this small city to get to the Dunn Construction and Demolition debris landfill which is a significant source of odor and pollution. The last thing the City of Rensselaer needs is another noxious waste facility.”

David Ellis of the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition said:
“BioHiTech’s proposed plant in the City of Rensselaer is a disaster waiting to happen. It is the wrong type of project, in the wrong location at the wrong time. The facility would be built just a stone’s throw from the Hudson River and residential neighborhoods in a historic area of the city. Disturbing the site could be catastrophic by potentially allowing toxic chemicals from the days of BASF to leach out of the brownfield and into the Hudson River and nearby communities. Several communities to the South receive drinking water from the Hudson. If DEC approves permitting of this facility, it will only add to the impacts that residents currently face from the notorious Dunn C&D Landfill.”

Media contact: Leah Rae, Riverkeeper Media Specialist, [email protected], (914) 715-6821


Project documents

Hudson Mohawk Magazine, Sanctuary for Independent Media
Riverkeeper speaks out against BioHiTech waste proposal amidst environmental concerns
Mike Ewall of the Energy Justice Network on proposed BioHiTech facility
Proposed BioHiTech solid waste facility moving forward despite moratorium, no SEQRA review

Times Union
• News article: Riverkeeper weighs in against proposed waste-to-energy plant in Rensselaer
• Column: How much garbage can this city take?

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