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Sewage sludge public-private waste-to-energy incinerator planned for Suffolk, LI

First new US energy recovery incinerator in 10 years

BY JAMES T. MADORE
Newsday Staff Writer

April 13, 2006

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy yesterday unveiled a capital spending budget for next year that calls for a private company to replace a dormant incinerator for the Southwest Sewer District, and millions of dollars for revamping the county jail and preserving open space.

Speaking to reporters, Levy touted the incinerator as an example of saving tax dollars while improving services to residents. Suffolk would forego $61.3 million by outsourcing the incinerator's construction and operation at the Bergen Point sewage treatment plant in West Babylon.

Sewage sludge from Babylon and Islip now is sent to Georgia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, costing $6 million a year. Under the new plan, the sludge would be converted to ash for burial in area landfills. The process also would generate electricity that could be used for plant operations.

Levy said he and budget officials embraced using a private company after being surprised by cost estimates that grew by $14.4 million in one year. "We have to come up with something innovative," he said.

Such private-public partnerships aren't commonplace in sewage disposal, according to Ted Michaels, of the Integrated Waste Services Association, a Washington, D.C., trade group. But county budget chief Fred Pollert said there is a partnership in Rahway, N.J.

Savings from the incinerator project helped Levy's 2007 capital budget come in $7.4 million lower than the $241.6-million budget that was adopted by the county legislature for this year.

At $234 million, however, Levy's 2007 budget is higher than those he proposed in the past two years, in part because of the cost of complying with state mandates to fix the Yaphank jail. The Democrat said yesterday the jail's projected bill had been reduced by $29.3 million to $223.6 million because of the refurbishment of existing housing units instead of replacing them.

Levy's budget also includes $50 million over the next three years to preserve open space, which grows to $100 million with matching funds from other governments.

Richard Amper, of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said: "The reason open space is good for taxpayers is because deer don't go to school," he said, referring to school-district taxes.

Levy's capital spending plan received muted criticism from the legislature's Republican minority. GOP leader Daniel Losquadro, while praising the incinerator, said he would scrutinize other projects to ensure those with the greatest public benefit are given priority.

During the past two years, when Republicans controlled the legislature, a total of $38.4 million in spending was added to Levy's initial plans.

Presiding Officer William J. Lindsay labeled the incinerator "a very interesting idea" but said it was too early to judge the 267-page capital budget. The first public hearing is set for May 9 at 3 p.m. in the legislature's Hauppauge auditorium.

Capital budget highlights

Arranging with a private company to build and operate a replacement incinerator for the Southwest Sewer District, a move he says will save $61.3 million.

Lowering the projected cost of replacing the Yaphank jail by refurbishing existing housing units, adding a women's section, and opening a 20-bed infirmary.

Establishing an Environmental Legacy Fund to spend $50 million over three years for open-space and farmland preservation and to restore parks.

Tightening oversight of capital projects to combat cost overruns.

SOURCE: SUFFOLK COUNTY

EXECUTIVE STEVE LEVY

 

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