SCRRRA looking at feasibility of regional composting facility

Food-scrap composting is the next area the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resource Recovery Authority is looking at to help the environment and reduce the cost of disposal.

SCRRRA is studying the feasibility of establishing a regional composting operation and looking for potential sites that would be suitable, said SCRRRA Executive Director David Aldridge.

Groton is among the communities that have expressed interest, with the town's Conservation Commission encouraging the town to study the feasibility of hosting the composting operation.

In a July 5 memorandum to the town manager, the commission said having such a site in Groton would: "Decrease biomass entering our landfill or burn disposal systems"; "Create high quality compost for use by the Town, our agricultural industry and its citizens at lower cost than currently available"; and generate a "Revenue source that could be directed to additional conservation projects."

Aldridge made a presentation to the commission on July 1, and last month had mentioned during a recycling presentation to the Town Council and City Council that SCRRRA is interested in a composting operation.

The Groton Town Council reached a consensus at last week's Committee of the Whole meeting to ask town staff to work with SCRRRA on looking for a potential site. Town Manager John Burt said that once SCRRRA determines what it is it is looking to do exactly, the staff will help identify potential locations to consider.

Aldridge said he's also reaching out to North Stonington, Montville, Ledyard and Preston.

North Stonington First Selectman Mike Urgo, who spoke with Aldridge, called the composting facility a “fantastic idea” and it could make sense for his town to be involved as agriculture is the backbone of the community. But he noted there would have to be a process to have further discussion. If the idea moves further along, he said, North Stonington would be happy to talk more about it at a selectmen’s meeting.

“If we end up being a place that makes sense with SCRRRA’s plans, we certainly welcome the discussion,” he said.

Though Aldridge emphasized that the idea is in the very early stages and the feasibility is being studied, the concept is to create a facility that would compost food scraps using wood chips from transfer stations to generate high-grade compost.

Aldridge and SCRRRA's recycling coordinator are slated to go through comprehensive training next month, on everything from the composting process to regulatory steps, he said. Then armed with that knowledge, SCRRRA next would plan to bring in a consulting firm to assist with the siting and design of the potential operation and the permitting process.

SCRRRA is initially talking to the towns to see if they are interested and then, if they are, SCRRRA would take a look at potential sites once the contractor is on board.

Though the consulting firm would help determine the design, Aldridge said he'd like to potentially model the composting operation after a facility near Syracuse, N.Y., run by the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, which uses static aerated pile composting. The system, which has bunkers and pipes that force air into the pile, allows the composting operation to be easily controlled, speeds up composting by about 50 percent and contains odors.

Aldridge said he was driven to look at the potential composting operation as another way to take care of waste locally, at a time when the state is facing an annual 500,000-ton shortfall in waste-to-energy capacity and the alternative of hauling out of state is expensive and generates greenhouse gases. He also hopes many farms in the area will be interested in the compost.

In addition to the environmental benefits, he said, the cost of composting is less expensive than the cost of disposal.

SCRRRA is interested in potential locations in the middle of New London County to encompass major food scrap producers in the region, Aldridge said. Under state statute, if major producers of food scraps are located within 20 miles of a composting facility, then they are required to recycle that material to a facility, according to state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spokesperson Lee Sawyer.

SCRRRA is hoping to "jump start" the operation with the major commercial and industrial producers, Aldridge said. The facility hopefully could expand in the long run to accommodate food waste from residential customers, potentially through curbside pickup or transfer station drop-off, he said.

Ideally, a potential site for the proposed operation would be about 20 acres and be located in a rural or agricultural area near a highway, he said. The composting operation, mulch yard, and equipment storage facility would require about 5 to 8 acres, with the additional acreage providing distance between the operation and any neighboring sites.

"We want a buffer so that we could run our operation with the hopes that people in town wouldn't even know we're there," he said.

The benefits of hosting the site include revenue for a town and having a renewable resource right there in the community, he said.

"It's just environmentally very sound," he said.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has met with SCRRRA concerning the proposal and is enthusiastic to work with SCRRRA because the project would help the state move toward its goal of diverting more material from disposal, said Sawyer, the DEEP spokesman. Food waste makes up approximately 20 percent of the waste stream, according to DEEP.

DEEP's role would be to work with SCRRRA to determine what environmental regulations would apply and ensure SCRRRA applies for the proper permits. DEEP would then evaluate the applications and issue the permits.

"We’re looking forward to working with them closely as they pursue this opportunity," Sawyer said.

SCRRRA, which was formed "to implement solutions for solid waste, recyclables, household hazardous waste, and other waste materials," has 12 member municipalities: East Lyme, Griswold, Groton, Ledyard, Montville, New London, North Stonington, Norwich, Preston, Sprague, Stonington, and Waterford.

"I think we're still in the infancy stages of exploring it," Montville Mayor Ronald McDaniel said of SCRRRA's composting operation idea. "It certainly has a potential to be part of [the state's] Comprehensive Materials Management Strategy."

As far as hosting a site, he said, Montville would consider it, but first would need to see what the proposal is. He pointed out that for any proposal to move forward, it would have to go through a lengthy approval process in which he would have to get the "blessing" from a lot of people.

Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon said the state and region have to take a look at technology such as composting to dispose of waste in a responsible manner, so he thinks it's something SCRRRA should be looking at. He said last week that there haven't been any discussions about Preston being the site for such a facility.

Preston is the host town of SCRRRA's waste-to-energy plant, and SCRRRA has other land in town, he said, but any siting would have to go through the appropriate land use boards and commissions.

k.drelich@theday.com

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