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December 09, 2016
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Tomatoes, fish and energy at the landfill

Michael Kaplan

The idea of tapping the gas created in the capped landfill in Monticello has been broached in the past, but this time around, the proposal is proposed as a part of a larger plan to transform the acreage around the landfill and the adjacent abandoned Apollo Plaza shopping mall into a use that can produce revenue for the county.

At a meeting at the government center on January 20, Don McCormick, president of Carbon Harvest Energy, said that his company would not only build a small power plant that would turn the gas created in the landfill into heat and electricity, but he also said that some part of that energy would be used to run a year-round 25- acre greenhouse and a 250,000 gallon aquaculture installation at the site.

The greenhouse would be used to raise 6700 tons of crops such as organic tomatoes and potatoes each year, and the aquaculture would be used to raise 150 tons of tilapia fish. The effluent from the fish operation, which is often treated as waste to be disposed of in other operations, would be used as fertilizer for the vegetables, and also used to create a type of algae-based fish food.

But perhaps the most interesting element of the project, from the point of view of the local agrarian economy, is that it would create a distribution hub for not only the products raised at the site, but also for produce and farm products created by small producers in the region.

Lawmaker David Sager asked if the operation specifically would benefit small farms in Sullivan County. Jeff Jones, the general manager o Vermont Hydroponic, which will partner with Carbon Harvest, said yes. He said the market created by the greenhouse will have a demand that will far exceed the amount the greenhouse will be able to deliver.

Carbon Harvest is already operating a similar facility in Brattleboro VT, and the one proposed for here is expected to result in 110 full time greenhouse “livable” jobs with benefits.

Moreover, said McCormick, there would be enough excess energy from the landfill to provide energy for other projects at the site, and the energy, which would qualify as 100 percent renewable, would be an attractive incentive for possible investors.

The general reaction among lawmakers to the proposal was positive, but there are significant questions to be answered before it could go forward.

To renovate or start from scratch
The power plant, greenhouse and aquaculture facility would be a small part of a larger development of the site, which by all accounts would feature large expanses of retail, and perhaps some entertainment elements such as a movie theater.

The two developers pursuing that part of the plan have both indicated that they would be glad to work with Carbon Harvest, but they have offered dramatically differing views about the best use of the overall site. Michael Kaplan, the developer who created, among other things, the Monticello Motor Club, said that his plan involves luring one or more big box stores, such as Sam’s Club or Costco to the site, and ultimately to create more than $750,000 square feet of retail.

Kaplan said the large retailers are interested in the site because of the new exit ramp being constructed from Route 17B, the future I-86, which will exit right in front of the abandoned plaza. Kaplan was emphatic, however, that the big retailers would not be interested in the site unless the existing mall, which has been empty for more than five years, is demolished. Kaplan said, “I can’t attract any retailer with the existing building there.”

Lawyer Jacob Billig, representing the Resnick Supermarket Equipment Corporation, on the other hand said the best way to proceed with developing the site is to renovate the existing building and turn it into “top shelf space.” He said the benefit with his proposal was that because the building is an existing structure, work could begin almost immediately. Conversely, if the building were to be demolished and all new ones built, numerous environmental hurdles would have to be surmounted and the process could take several years. (Kaplan said it might take 18 months.)

Resnick had earlier also proposed building a truck stop and motel at the site, but that would be put off to the future, and would not be included if lawmakers objected.
The presentations by Billig and Kaplan suggested that the two developers were not inclined to work with each other in developing the site. But lawmaker Leni Binder said the site is a big one, and perhaps the two organizations will yet find away to accommodate both visions for its futur