Environment / Health / Jobs

Will NYOFCo rise from the grave?

Photo by Marguerite Adams

The candy-striped smoke stack of NYOFCo is a Hunts Point landmark.

City seeks proposals for sludge treatment

NYOFCo is down but may not be out.

The city forced the sewage-to-fertilizer plant on Oak Point Avenue to close its doors last summer after 16 years of nauseating smells. Now the same city agency that shut NYOFCo down is soliciting proposals for a new effort to process sewage sludge from all 14 city sewage plants.

NYOFCo’s parent company is likely to compete for the new contract, a spokesman said.

The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a request for proposals for reviving the waterfront plant that housed the New York Organic Fertilizer from 1994 until last summer, when the DEP ended its contract to deliver sewage sludge to the company.

Activists, residents and public officials rejoiced when the city announced it was ending its contract with the plant, but NYOFCo’s Texas-based parent company, Synagro, continues to rent the parcel the plant sits on.

Asked if Synagro was planning a comeback, the company’s New York spokesman Ethan Geto gave a qualified Yes. “If Synagro does proceed, which is likely, first we’ve got to look at the RFP,” Ethan Geto said, referring to the Request for Proposals issued on Nov. 5.

DEP officials say they will review all the proposals, beginning in January, the official deadline for submissions. A decision on a new tenant is expected some time in 2011.

But in settling a lawsuit filed by the environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of Mothers on the Move and several Hunts Point and Longwood residents, Synagro and the city agreed that the plant would stay closed at least until the summer of 2012.

Maria Torres, president of the Point CDC, is nervously eager to hear the details of the proposals for reopening the plant and of safeguards to keep the problems of the past from being repeated.

“You don’t want to get screwed again,” Torres said, adding, “We just want them to be a good neighbor.”

Disposing of sludge, a slurry of human waste, presents environmental challenges, Torres said, and it is important to consider all the alternatives, including new methods for doing what NYOFCo was doing—turning the sludge into fertilizer pellets that were used on citrus crops in Florida and the Southwest.

“You don’t want the DEP to landfill it because that’s not best for the environment,” she said. “If they’re going to do it right, you have to consider” making fertilizer she said.

“But is it the best use of our land here?” she asked.

Torres and other local activists want assurances that city regulators and any new tenant be more mindful both of the impact emissions from the plant have on the community and of the truck traffic the plant draws.

Geto, the Synagro spokesman, says cleaner technology and increased local input will be part of any new arrangement, if the fertilizer company returns.

“It’s not going to be just to replicate what was there before,” Geto said. “Whatever we do will be designed to be exceedingly community-friendly,” and “would have significantly better technology,” he said.

In a written answer to questions from The Express, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, Michael Saucier, said, “The RFP requires proposers to provide details of the odor control technologies that will be implemented at their facilities. DEP will use that information in grading the proposals.”

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