“As your company grows, our children suffer,” Alder 18 Salvatore DeCola told a waste management company’s officials at the city’s environmental advisory council meeting Wednesday. “How much more can urban cities take garbage and every other polluting item?”
DeCola’s indictment came about 30 minutes into a heated discussion about the ramifications of an addition to Murphy Road Recycling’s facility at 19 Wheeler St. The Hartford-based company has proposed a 35,000-square-foot expansion to its waste processing plant — effectively doubling the size of the site’s current operation. With improved, mechanical sorting devices, the company could more effectively separate recyclables from trash, said the company’s Director of Operations Jonathan Murray.
The improvements, Murray said, would lead to a more consolidated regional waste load, fewer trucks on the road and decreased fuel consumption. But Murray was unable to supply numbers or predictions showing the extent of the reduction in energy use.
City officials aired several concerns about the project at Wednesday’s meeting. Most outspoken of all, DeCola gave an impassioned three-minute diatribe against expanding industry in New Haven that he says increases the city’s carbon footprint.
“I’m not trying to stop your business, but we continue to dump on the city,” he said. “I don’t care how much you say you’re going to do. The carbon print is growing.”
Worried about rising sea levels, council member Kevin McCarthy questioned the facility’s proximity to the water. But Murray said the plant is 17 feet above the Sound — safe from the predicted rise in sea level. A 2017 University of Connecticut study anticipates a 20-inch sea level rise off the coast of Connecticut by 2050.
Others at the meeting were concerned as much with the project’s economic and aesthetic stakes as with its ecological consequences. Council member Iris Kaminsky posed a general question for the council: Should New Haven’s historically industrial waterfront stay industrial?
But Murray was quick to point out that the facility is situated on a brownfield, or a contaminated site with limited, and mostly industrial, development options.
Council chair Laura Cahn also worried about the facility’s location on the waterfront: “I don’t want to smell garbage in downtown New Haven,” she said, adding that the site is a “very valuable piece of property.”
Murray assured the room that the company’s deodorizing equipment has proven successful at other facilities and would keep residents from needing to hold their noses.
Given that New Haven already has a waste processing plant and that Murphy’s facility would manage waste from nearby municipalities, Cahn wondered, “Why should New Haven be suffering when other cities do not want to be responsible for their garbage?”
But Murray emphasized the importance of cooperating with other communities to meet the state’s Solid Waste Management Plan goals and objectives.
The council’s most urgent question, though, was not how the company would work with the state, but rather what it had done — and would do — to build a relationship with the New Haven community. The plant is at the junction of four wards, making community outreach tricky but no less necessary, council members said.
Alder DeCola advocated for more transparency, blaming the company for using a misleading address. The address has long been listed as 19 Wheeler St., even before Murphy Road Recycling bought the property in 2007, Murray said. But residents have complained about truck traffic on Fairmont Avenue, where the company’s “real” address is located, DeCola said.
“Please start using the right address, so residents know where you are,” he said. “You cannot make up an address.”
The facility is located off both Fairmont Avenue and Wheeler Street. Trucks enter the site from Wheeler, according to Murray.
Other council members expressed hope that the company would continue to meet with neighbors and work with city as it moves through the permit application process.
The company’s attorney, Edward Spinella, pointed to a recent on-site community meeting and the company’s openness to answer complaints and discuss plans with city officials as evidence that it had made a significant effort to work with the community.
“This is the beginning of a long process,” he said. “[The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection] will not issue this permit overnight.”
The company has not yet applied for a permit. It remains in the environmental justice public participation phase — mandated by state law — which requires a company seeking a facility expansion to engage in “meaningful” community engagement before submitting an application.
Murray said the company will likely submit an application within the next six months.
Max Graham | firstname.lastname@example.org