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Communities speak out on proposed Hughes Energy waste processing facility in the Catskills

Grand Gorge MSW Facility Rendering-1000

Rendering courtesy of Don’t Trash the Catskills
View more images on our Flickr site

Hughes Energy LLC has proposed a municipal solid waste processing facility in Grand Gorge, N.Y., less than 2,000 feet from the Schoharie Creek and Schoharie Reservoir, which is part of New York City’s drinking water supply. Now is a critical time for the public to become informed and give input into the environmental review process, as the project raises concerns about its scale and potential impacts.

Grand Gorge Waste Processing Facility rendering

Rendering courtesy of Don’t Trash the Catskills

The first of its size and scale in the United States, the proposed facility would use steam autoclave technology to process 176,500 tons per year of municipal solid waste into biomass fiber and fuel pellets. Running 24/7, Hughes Energy anticipates processing 22.05 tons (that’s nearly 49,000 pounds) of solid waste per hour. The waste processed at the facility would be brought in by trucks six days per week from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. from 12 counties in the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier of New York State (Orange, Dutchess, Columbia, Rensselaer, Albany, Schoharie, Osteto, Chenango, Broome, Delaware, Sulivan, and Ulster).

The permit application states the facility would require 25,000 gallons of water per day, sourced from private, on-site wells (below the threshold requiring a Water Withdrawal Permit). The facility anticipates generating 4,800 gallons per day of industrial wastewater and 1,100 gallons per day of sanitary wastewater, and is seeking permission to connect into the neighboring Town of Prattsville’s wastewater treatment plant. The Prattsville Wastewater Treatment Plant discharges into the Schoharie Creek, which has been classified by DEC as a Class B(T) stream, indicating designated use for swimming or other contact recreation and that the waterway may support trout populations (T). Additionally, the site is within known habitat for protected bald eagles and is within close proximity to wetlands.

Riverkeeper’s primary concerns
Our concerns about the project include:

  • Water quality impacts on the reservoir, creek and wetlands from:
      • Construction
      • Stormwater, including increases in impervious surfaces (a 115,000-square-foot processing building and 9,500-square-foot administrative office and maintenance shop)
      • Wastewater. Industrial wastewater produced at the facility is planned to be discharged into the Schoharie Creek via the Prattsville Wastewater Treatment Plant, which likely will not be able to remove all of the chemicals from the wastewater.
        • PFAS – These “forever chemicals,” are common in municipal solid waste and are extremely toxic substances and have risks to human and ecological health
    • Runoff associated with increased truck traffic
  • Impacts on fisheries and ecology
  • Impact on recreational fishing


A growing coalition of partners

In September, concerned community members packed two public meetings held by Hughes Energy LLC, raising concerns such as risks to the Schoharie Creek and Reservoir and impacts on air quality, local farms, community character, and quality of life. Following these meetings, residents of Grand Gorge, Roxbury, and Prattsville came together with members of the surrounding community to form Don’t Trash the Catskills, a group committed to protecting the Catskill Mountains from predatory development.

Additional Community Concerns:

  • Health and safety risks from truck traffic: Large diesel trucks would be transporting municipal solid waste into the facility through many local communities along Routes 23, 30, 28, 42, threatening air quality and increasing risk of accidents.
  • Unproven technology: The proposed autoclave technology is experimental and has been rejected by several communities in the U.S. and failed in many European locations.
  • Size and scale: The facility would be 115,000 square feet (twice the size of a football field) and seven stories high, compromising the rural character of the community.
  • Jobs: The vast majority of the jobs for the facility would be temporary construction jobs, with a much smaller number of permanent jobs for specialized engineers and laborers.
  • Taxes: Hughes plans to apply for a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes), which may eliminate or greatly reduce any tax benefits for the local municipality.
  • Threats to wildlife: The site includes sensitive bald eagle habitat, wetlands and a local trout stream.


What’s happened thus far:

As the lead agency, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released the Draft Scoping Document for public comment. Scoping is an important part of the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process, as it establishes what will be included in the “scope” of the environmental impact statement to be studied. In September, Riverkeeper and its coalition partners requested a 90-day public comment period and public hearing for the draft scoping process. The state only allowed an additional 10 days for public comment, which will now close on Tuesday, November 30. Public participation in the scoping process is critical, as it helps to ensure the scope is as comprehensive as possible, and reduces the chance that unaddressed issues will arise later in the process.

To support community members with their scoping comments, Don’t Trash the Catskills in partnership with Riverkeeper and Catskill Mountainkeeper presented an educational forum at the Grand Gorge Civics Center on Thursday, November 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. The event included a discussion of the proposed facility and to provided a general overview of the SEQR scoping process, and community members were provided with the tools and opportunity to write comments on-site that evening. Watch the Facebook Live recording of the November 18 community forum.

The scoping public comment period closed on November 30, 2021.  View the draft scope and Riverkeeper’s comments on the draft scope. To learn more about the scoping process, view the coalition’s Scoping Fact Sheet. For more information on the proposal, visit DEC’s project page.

Where the process stands

Over the month of November, DEC received robust participation in the public comment period on the Draft Scope for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, receiving 755 comments about Hughes Energy’s proposed waste processing facility in Grand Gorge, NY. Riverkeeper submitted comprehensive comments which highlighted risks to the Schoharie Reservoir and Creek, land use and community character, visual resources, air quality, and aquatic life, among other concerns. Read Riverkeeper’s full comments.

On Tuesday, November 30, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) sent the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) Final Scoping Outline to Hughes Energy. Upon reviewing the Draft EIS Scoping Outline, Staff Attorney Victoria Leung reflected, “Riverkeeper is pleased with the comprehensive final scope issued by DEC, which rebuffs Hughes’ feeble attempt to evade its SEQRA responsibilities. We hope DEC will remain committed to a meaningful assessment of all environmental impacts, and we will continue to monitor its efforts on this proposal.”

What comes next?
The Final Scoping Outline that the DEC submitted to Hughes indicates the areas that must be studied. When complete, Hughes Energy will prepare a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to deliver to the DEC.  A public comment period will follow to solicit more feedback from the community. 


Resources and Press coverage of the public comment period and Final Scoping Outline:

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