A group of Arecibo residents has gathered and submitted more than 1,500 signatures in favor of the proposed $500 million, 77-megawatt waste-to-energy plant project by Albany, NY-based Energy Answers International Inc. for the Cambalache sector of the northern Puerto Rico town.
The signatures, as well as 434 letters of support, have been turned over to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which held a second round of public hearings over the weekend to accept comments on its proposed action to approve an air permit to Energy Answers.s
“No company in Puerto Rico has made such a direct and intense effort to communicate to the public the specifics of a project, as Energy Answers has done in Arecibo. I can attest to that,” said Cambalache resident and group spokesperson Aurea Miranda.
She added that for more than two years, the company has had a group of environmental, legal and educational consultants who, in cooperation with area residents, established an initiative dubbed “Dialogue with Arecibo” to educate about the proposal and answer questions from residents.
This program has yielded “hundreds of interventions in local and national radio, regional and national newspapers, television, more than a hundred community meetings and meetings with dozens of professional groups,” the group said.
“There have been hundreds of media interventions, and we have directly contacted about 7,291 people in meetings and presentations. We have also collected more than 1,500 signatures of endorsement. To date, there are 434 letters of endorsement submitted to the EPA as part of its public hearings,” said David Pérez, collaborator for the “Talking to Arecibo” movement.
The “Dialogue with Arecibo” group held a meeting before the EPA’s hearings got underway over the weekend, attended by 150 people who support the Energy Answers proposal.
For more than a year, Energy Answers has been lobbying for the project known as the “Arecibo Puerto Rico Renewable Energy Project,” which will consist of two identical municipal waste combustors units a steam turbine-electrical generator, ash handling system, a carbon storage silo, a lime storage silo, an emergency diesel generator, an emergency diesel fire pump, one ammonia and three distillate fuel oil No.2 storage tanks, and a mechanical draft wet cooling tower.
Once operational, the facility will be capable of receiving up to 2,100 tons of waste per day to convert it into biofuel. At present, there are about 30 landfills on the island, most with limited lifespans left.
But while the “Dialogue with Arecibo” group has thrown its support behind the project, they don’t represent the feelings of all of the Cambalache area neighbors.
In May, during the EPA’s first round of public hearings, a group of students, environmental chemists and other neighbors showed up to express their opposition to the WTE plant, referring to the potential health problems that could be associated it’s operation in the future.
However, neighbor and farmer Javier Ríos said evaluating the proposal and visiting the Energy Answer’s model plant in Rochester, Mass. convinced him of the project’s upside.
“Most Arecibo residents have no problem with the plant being established. On the contrary, they want to it be approved now so that we may have economic development in Arecibo, jobs and a better way of managing waste in our town that has been so affected by the landfill that is now contaminating both our people and our Tiburones Channel,” he said.