By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Carbon Harvest Energy (CHE) President Don McCormick returned to Sullivan County on Tuesday to update an almost brand new Legislature on his company’s plans for a massive food production facility next to the landfill in Monticello.
In the works since 2010, the project has slowly made its way to a point where McCormick said CHE is now ready to ink a land sale/lease agreement with the county.
While growing lettuce, tomatoes and fish next to a landfill might seem out-of-place, CHE is banking on the former dump’s methane gas a result of the trash’s ongoing decomposition to provide an economical way to heat and power the facility.
Called the “Sullivan County Resource Stewardship Facility,” the $35 million complex would actually occupy two sites a 25-acre parcel for the greenhouses between the back (south side) of the landfill and Haddock Road, and a smaller spot for the preparation facility, possibly closer to East Broadway.
Officials want to avoid having food trucks use the same road garbage trucks take to the new transfer station next to the landfill, so a separate access route is being considered to either Haddock or Rose Valley roads.
McCormick told legislators this would be the largest of four such projects CHE is undertaking, expanding upon the model of a production facility just completed in Brattleboro, Vermont. (The company is based in Burlington, VT)
“This is our prize project. It’s the one we want to see lead the other projects,” he said. “... We propose to build a very dense food production system that is completely fossil fuel-independent.”
Indeed, CHE is exploring providing excess energy to the power grid and Catskill Regional Medical Center, though the county has first dibs and would be paid for the gas CHE uses.
CHE is also in discussions with Chancellor-Livingston, the firm selected to redevelop the neighboring Apollo Mall. McCormick is particularly interested in providing energy to a Price Chopper or other grocery store he’s heard is interested in the mall.
But CHE’s main interest is in erecting a bank of greenhouses and a 25,000-square-foot food storage and distribution facility that could produce around 13 million pounds of food every year.
“We already have a large and significant wholesale business,” he said.
The complex would be built at CHE’s expense on land it purchases or leases from the county, though an agreement has yet to be hashed out.
McCormick said he’s interested in obtaining food and supplies from local growers and businesses, possibly also offering farmers training in CHE’s methods, albeit for small-scale production.
McCormick doesn’t believe the project will compete with existing farms.
“Our specialty is really tomatoes and ready-to-eat salads,” he explained, noting it would be hydroponic and near-organic, utilizing algae to purify the water system.
Pending a deal with the county, the needed permits from the state and feds and Village of Monticello, and the financing coming together, the complex could be operational as early as August 2013.
Legislators asked how many jobs the facility would offer (60 in construction, around 50 at startup, and ultimately 110, all full-time and mostly local, he replied) and whether there’s enough gas to make the plan viable.
McCormick said the county’s studies and CHE’s have indicated there’s enough methane to power the greenhouses through 2050.
He also agreed with Legislator Cora Edwards that the public should be brought in on this plan as soon as possible, indicating that will happen after a firm agreement is reached with the county.
Legislators and the county’s “green” consultant, Dick Riseling, seemed buoyed by the presentation.
“It’s a really beautiful design,” Riseling affirmed. “I think this will rapidly incentivize a whole lot of agricultural development here in Sullivan County.”
“This is a way that could leverage out on a larger scale what we’re trying to do on a smaller scale,” agreed Edwards.
“This is NBC and CNN when we cut the ribbon on this project,” said McCormick, predicting national publicity, “because it addresses key issues on food security and sustainability.”