By Lisa Capobianco
Turning Earth is an organics recycling company partnering with Covanta Energy to build a new, $20 million state-of-the-art facility in Southington. If approved, the proposed facility on Spring Street would be the first integrated high solids anaerobic digestion and in-vessel composting facility in the Northeast where it will recycle municipal and commercial and organic waste streams from over a dozen communities in central Connecticut.
“We take organic wastes and recycle it to make renewable energy compost,” said Amy McCrae Kessler, the head of Environmental & Regulatory Affairs and a founding member of Turning Earth, LLC.
During a recent meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to table Turning Earth’s special permit application for the construction of multiple buildings on one lot for an organics recycling facility after some residents expressed concern for the proposal. The proposed facility would be located in an industrial zone on 111 Spring Street. Geoffrey Fitzgerald, a professional engineer of BL Companies who represented Turning Earth, said between 19 and 20 trucks would enter the facility per day, accessing the site through the driveway at BJ’s.
“We completely recognize that this is a high traffic area…our impact will be negligible,” said Fitzgerald, adding that less than one vehicle would be entering and leaving the facility per hour.
For residents like Cynthia Lombardo, more trucks on Spring Street mean more traffic.
“I’m for it, [but] I’m just really concerned about the traffic,” said Lombardo. “I think it’s terrific, I love the concept, but I think more has to be looked into what’s going to happen with all this traffic.”
Marion Michalski, another resident of Spring Street, also agreed that the concept of the facility is exciting, but not when considering the issue of traffic.
“It’s a lot of traffic for one street,” said Michalski, adding that she also felt concerned for children breathing in the fumes from prospective trucks traveling on the street.
Last year, the state legislature required certain businesses that produce large amounts of organic wastes to recycle such material to create clean energy and sustainability. Examples of these businesses include wholesalers, supermarkets, resorts and conference centers.
“We recognized that this was a good thing to do before the state passed this law, and we were very interested in doing it,” said Kessler, adding that Lake Compounce is the first company to sign up as the first customer of the proposed facility.
As an organics recycling company, Turning Earth receives food waste, yard waste, industrial organic waste streams and agriculture wastes that are diverted from landfills. Under a biological process called anaerobic digestion, Turning Earth produces biogas, which can be turned into different energy end products, such as electricity and vehicular fuels, according to the company’s presentation during the meeting. After the biogas process, the material turns into compost and is further refined into engineered soil products with industrial, residential and agricultural uses and environmental benefits. The final step involves using heat created during the biogas conversion activities to create ideal conditions for the development of sustainably and locally grown foods.
“We’re looking forward to becoming a great partner for the town of Southington,” said Kessler, noting how accessible the facility would be considering its location near Interstate-84. “We want to be somewhere that wants us—[Southington] indicated it wanted us.”
“We really liked the community’s aggressive approach to economic development and focus on sustainability,” added Blake Sturcke, the founder and Executive Vice President & Head of Corporate Development of Turning Earth, LLC.
During the public hearing, several members of the community expressed their support of the facility, including Economic Development Coordinator Lou Perillo. Perillo stated advantages of the facility in Southington, such as the location and the green activity that will take place there. He said the location works well, since the facility would be centrally located and is far enough away from residential homes.
“This truly is green—you’re turning food wastes into energy, and with a byproduct of compost,” said Perillo. “If you look at how we use energy not only in this country but globally…these things are going to go somewhere—we have the opportunity to bring it here.”
Don Jacobson, the chairman of Newcomb Spring Corp. on Spring Street, also spoke in favor of Turning Earth’s application.
“I own the property directly on the south side of this—I’m closest to the actual facility of anybody,” Jacobson said during the public hearing. “I feel very confident that they would make a great neighbor, and I’m looking forward to having them right next door.”
If approved, Turning Earth’s facility could open in early 2016. The facility will convert 50,000 tons annually of source separated organics and 25,000 tons per year of leaf, woody and yard waste into a variety of resources, such as renewable energy, rich, fertile compost and locally grown food. The facility will also have positive environmental effects, such as the reduction of carbon dioxide and a production of renewable electricity to provide power for nearly 10,000 homes.
For more information about Turning Earth, visit http://turningearthllc.com/.