Recycler’s Expansion Bid Sparks Environmental Justice Debate

Murphy Road Recycling, down in New Haven’s port district, sparked some debate in 2015 when it sought and won permission to take in municipal solid waste (MSW) like cardboard and packaging in addition to construction debris.

It now wants to double the size of its facility, add new, more efficient equipment to recycle, and offer itself as a transfer point for “putrescible” MSW, more popularly known as garbage, from towns potentially up to a 30-mile radius from New Haven.

The environmental pluses and minuses of the expansion were the subject of spirited debate at City Hall Wednesday night as officials from the company addressed members of the city’s Environmental Advisory Council’s regular monthly meeting.

The meeting was part of a mandated “E.J,” or environmental justice process, choreographed through the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Under state law, a business like Murphy Road Recylcing must engage in “meaningful public participation” letting residents in the affected low-income — and, in the case of New Haven, high asthma — neighborhoods know the benefits and safeguards in any proposed new building or expansion of scope of work.

Murphy Director of Operations Jonathan Murray said recycling activity — for good stuff like mulch from wood — will increase with the doubling of the size of the building and the addition of new equipment like magnets, conveyor belts, and sorters to permit finer sorting.

A third feature of the expansion — effectively a new use — turned out to be the most controversial: Operating the facility as a transfer station for putrescible household garbage. Under the plan, the garbage would dumped there and processed within 48 hours by private contractors and towns around New Haven, if they choose to use Murphy Road’s facility.

Allan Appel PhotoThe allowable tonnage — now not to exceed 967 tons a day — will not change, said Murray. What changes is the mix of putrescible and non-putrescible stuff moving through the facility.

The company needs the new business. It is currently processing not even half of its daily allowable tonnage.

The plan would decrease in the number of trucks on the road, said Murray. Instead of lots of small contractor garbage trucks traveling distances all over the area, they could come to transfer their loads at Murphy Recycling. One large hauler, leaving from there, would then be on the road instead of many smaller vehicles.

Click hereto see the company’s presentation.

New Haven’s own household garbage is brought to the Public Works facility on Middletown Avenue as a transfer station, and is then hauled away for incineration. But many smaller towns without facilities of their own could now consider New Haven home for their garbage, at least for the 24 or 48 hours that it would remain at Murphy Recycling’s proposed transfer station.

That prompted environmental activist Lynn Bonnet to ask, in a question read to Murray by the council’s chair Laura Cahn: “We have [a facility]. Why shouldn’t other municipalities?”

“DEEP is looking for all 169 communities and the haulers to work together,” Murray replied, in order to decrease emissions of vehicles on the road. “We’re looking to consolidate here, and [the garbage] is leaving. It is not staying.”

“Why should New Haven suffer when other communities are not?” Cahn pressed.

The permit the company is seeking comes from the state, which requires the “E.J.” process before an application. The city must also give the thumbs up to the plan when it takes more detailed shape and is presented in public hearings before the Board of Zoning Appeals and the City Plan Commission.

The process, which may take up to another year and half, began in January and March when Murray led tours of the current facility at 19 Wheeler St. for officials and neighbors.

Smells ... ?

Wednesday night’s meeting emerged out of questions and concerns from the walk-through.

Cahn and the council’s co-chair Kevin McCarthy asked if the company had looked at the implications of the plan for sea level rise.

Murray’s answer: The site is 17 feet above sea level. Under the permit’s terms,t he putresible and other materials would never left long on the floor. He also said that the proposal does not include adding any more impervious surfaces.

McCarthy asked if organic waste would be be sorted from the larger pool of putrescible stuff.

“The permit doesn’t allow that at this facility,” Murray replied.

Everyone was interested in smell control. Murray said his company operates similar facilities throughout the state. The company’s lawyer Ed Spinella said the company’s systems for controlling odor —c overing all loads, high-pressure atomized water spray downs — are now being incorprated by DEEP into it general permitting. There’s never been a formal complaint registered against the facilities, he said.

Several people bemoaned the use of precious waterfront for this purpose. Murray replied that the site is likely a contaminated brown field since it belonged to U.S. Steel in the 1930s.

“Our fit is a good one,” he maintained.

Morris Cove’s Sal DeCola, chair of the City Services and Environmental Policy subcommittee,  registered the most emotional and general objection: “Your company grows, and our children suffer. We have the WPCA [Water PollutionControl Authority], the deepening of the harbor,” activities and facilities, among others, that will grow the carbon footprint of New Haven.

“The city needs to be stronger. We can’t take the growing carbon footprint,” DeCola argued

DeCola also said residents have complained to him about Murphy Road’s trucks not using prescribed routes but going on Fairmont Avenue. Murray said that he would look into it, but that the large haulers will reduce emissions and travel on the main roads and highways and cause less wear and tear on city surfaces.

Murray called the meeting informative.

When proposals become more detailed and land on the desks of the City Plan and Boar of Zoning Appeal commissioners, there will be public hearings.

Cahn said she was happy that the proposal is already more detailed than what was presented earlier in the year.

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posted by: Gimp on September 11, 2018  11:15pm

I’ve been to Lowes on Foxon Boulevard many times this summer, and there is always a stench of rotting trash there from the city transfer station on the other side of I91. I would not like to live there, and I do not know how residents in the area can stand it. I’d ask for my tax assessment to be substantially reduced due to quality of life issues. This new location will be just as bad, so this project should be axed immediately.

I have a question. If trash will be hauled to New Haven from other towns that does not come here now, how can this reduce vehicle emissions. It can’t, as there will be more trucks coming into the city. This whole presentation is very misleading at best, and probably completely incorrect at worse.

Looks to me the city is broke, and up for sale for anything to the highest bidder. This is a quality of life issue that I would be prepared to have the mil rate increased modestly if it got rid of this problem. Why does the city need two transfer stations. We already have too many schools. Soon we’ll have too many transfer stations too.

Another question. When asthma levels in the vicinity go up, will the city be liable for allowing this project. Taxes could go up to settle lawsuits.

Vote it down.

posted by: Brian V on September 12, 2018  8:37am

Here we go -again.
Oil tanks, ships and trucks.
Airport growth and wide body jets.
Harbor dredgings to fill the cove.
Solid waste burning.
All not enough, now we get a dump too.
East Shore is literally pooped on daily.
Enough is enough.

posted by: Sean O'Brien on September 12, 2018  12:02pm

I and other East Shore residents very much appreciate the strong stance taken by Alder DeCola on this.  I didn’t read the NHI for a day and missed this, but Sal filled us in at the ESMT meeting.  Cheers to Lynne Bonnett as well for all her activism.

@Brian V that’s exactly the context we need to put this in:

“Oil tanks, ships and trucks.
Airport growth and wide body jets.
Harbor dredgings to fill the cove.
Solid waste burning.
All not enough, now we get a dump too.”

...and that’s not to mention the impact of car and truck traffic from the highway.

When I played baseball at Annex Little League as a kid, the area stank.  Now it stinks more, and more often.

Even if we don’t think about the impact on human health and the environment, doesn’t this coming pile of stench conflict with the wonderful shoreline projects we’ve been promised by City Hall?  How can City Engineer Zinn work on beautifying the shoreline if this approval for constant stench goes through?

Cue the people calling us NIMBYs, anti-business, etc…

posted by: JCFremont on September 12, 2018  1:13pm

Who new recycling and “sustainability” is so dirty? I guess the only good recycling is a local artist turning scrap metal into a modern art sculptor. Looks like the area is an industrial area apparently since at least 1930. How about an extention of the freight train lines into the area, that can reduce the amount of truck traffic.

posted by: cellardoor on September 12, 2018  2:55pm

For years I have wondered whether a fast-ox incinerator could work for our region, as it has in several Scandinavian communities, using waste for power generation and solving the problem of finding landfill space.  When I raised the topic with a mayoral candidate some years ago, I got the “slow blink” that indicated he never had heard of this technology.  I am sure the technology is expensive, but perhaps UI and the State of Connecticut would be interested in underwriting a pilot program?  Links to information about this technology are below.  From what I have read lately, it seems that recycling is going to be increasingly problematic, since China doesn’t want our paper and plastic, and we are paying to incinerate trash that might be used to generate power while reducing emissions.  Do any NHI readers have insights about this?  Can we think outside the old cardboard box? 

https://www.sierraenergy.com/

https://www.energydigital.com/waste-management/largest-waste-energy-plant-finland-comes-online

posted by: NHPLEB on September 12, 2018  7:41pm

It is somehow fitting that NH be filled with garbage from other towns.
The environmental impact on the surrounding area must be considered.  Perhaps the developers can buy the properties of anyone downwind from the project who want to leave while they still can.

Yay-  New Haven for sale!  Bring us your drug addicts,  homeless, sewage, and now your garbage.
Can’t wait for the real estate market to settle down so I can move.