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NYOFCo plant winds down

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Residents complained, and for once, they were heard.

The New York Organic Fertilizer Company’s Hunts Point plant has closed down after the Department of Environmental Protection stopped sludge shipments to the plant and canceled its contract. NYOFCo’s closure is cause for jubilation among some community groups in Hunts Point whose residents had to contend with noxious odors from the plant.

The closure coincides with the legal settlement of a case on Tuesday, June 30 that had a coalition of community groups filing a claim against NYOFCo and the Hunts Point sewage treatment plant. The case was brought in July 2007 in Bronx Supreme Court by the National Resources Defense Council on behalf of Mothers on the Move and ten Hunts Point residents who complained for years about wide-ranging health and quality-of-life issues they associated with sewage odors.

NYOFCo needed sludge deliveries from the city’s 14 sewage treatment plants to manufacture fertilizer, and at the time of its closure was handling about half of all sludge produced in cleaning sewage in New York City. As part of the settlement, which includes a pledge by the city to end sludge deliveries for two years, the city is also agreeing for the first time to require that any new facility that might receive a contract to treat the city’s sewage sludge use the best available technology and operating practices to control odors and fumes.

“As a result of DEP Commissioner Cas Halloway’s willingness to work with our clients to come up with this practical and sensible resolution to a long-standing dispute, New York City residents can now have faith that sludge treatment operations, wherever they take place in the city, will be held to the highest standards,” said NRDC attorney Eric Goldstein.

The DEP and NYOFCo maintain that the closure is a result of the cheaper cost of disposing of the city’s sludge in landfills, rather than sending it to NYOFCo. Mark McCormack, vice president of the NYOFCo plant, said that the city made the decision to take advantage of cheap landfilling rates in places like Long Island and Virginia. He said that about 40 employees have been laid off as a result of the plant’s closure. Although residents that complained about the plant may now be celebrating, the job loss means that clearly, not everyone is happy about the closure.

“We are still evaluating our options in terms of the plant,” McCormack said. “The DEP is going to come out with a Request for Proposals for longterm solutions for handling sludge later in the year and I think we would propose on that. We will look at the what the RFP says in determining the future of the NYOFCo plant.”

DEP spokesman Farrell Sklerov said that landfilling is a cheap way of handling the city’s sludge, but not a sustainable solution. As NYOFCo winds down operations, the city will look to the future.

“The city was able to realize $18 million a year in cost savings by not shipping sludge to NYOFCo,” Sklerov said. “We are looking to issue an RFP to see if there are any other sustainable, cost-efficient practices instead of landfilling.”

Whatever the reason for the plant’s closure, many from groups, like Mothers on the Move, are thrilled.

“The closure of NYOFCo is the realization of years of organizing and activism in Hunts Point,” said Wanda Salaman, executive director for Mothers on the Move. She added that it is also “a much needed breath of fresh air for a community that has been stuck indoors for far too long due to the stench from local sewage plants.”

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