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ReEnergy helps municipalities by burning storm debris at biomass plant

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CANTON - Giving municipalities a lift without charge, this week ReEnergy began grinding and collecting storm debris that will be used to fuel its biomass facility at Fort Drum.

For up to 10 weeks, ReEnergy will visit municipal sites in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties to collect massive quantities of fallen limbs and other debris that accumulated during the winter, said John R. Howe, ReEnergy’s north country wood procurement manager. The move comes after ReEnergy met with highway superintendents following the ice storm in late December to hatch a plan for removing brush to be burned at its 60-megawatt-capacity plant, which opened last June. The service is provided at no charge to municipalities.

ReEnergy began grinding and collecting debris this week at the town of Brownville’s storage site off Star School House Road, Mr. Howe said. It also has agreed to collect debris from Jefferson County, the city of Watertown and the towns of Antwerp, Brownville, LeRay, Orleans and Rutland; in St. Lawrence County, agreements have been made with the city of Ogdensburg; the village of Gouverneur and the towns of Edwards, Fowler and Colton. More municipalities, as well as Fort Drum, are expected to participate in the effort this summer, he said. ReEnergy will collect debris free of charge for municipalities.

Mr. Howe said that up to 3,000 tons of debris could be collected from municipalities — enough to power the plant for about one and a half days. ReEnergy has hired an independent contractor, Slocum Development, Fulton, to process brush piles using a grinder on tracks and an excavator.

“It’s not the best material for us, because it’s the small tops and a lot of bark content, but it’s adding to our supply chain,” Mr. Howe said. “That’s the only benefit, because what it costs to process this stuff and truck it isn’t really a savings to us by any means. We’re getting the debris for a little less than if we would buy it 90 miles away.”

Mr. Howe said that ReEnergy plans to continue working with municipalities to grind and collect debris. Doing so will depend on whether they have a sufficient quantity to deliver.

“It may be two every two years, but if we get another ice storm, we will certainly jump on board again and take advantage of cleaning up the material,” he said.

City of Watertown Senior Planner Michael A. Lumbis said that the city previously spent about $10,000 on a typical year to hire contractors to grind debris at an old quarry it owns off Route 11, north of the Watertown boundary in the town of Pamelia. The ice storm in late December would have increased that annual total by about $25,000, he said.

The city began studying a partnership with ReEnergy last summer, Mr. Lumbis said. But doing so became critical after December’s ice storm, because the city had accumulated massive amounts of debris. That debris now will be put to good use by ReEnergy, instead of being buried at the quarry, he said.

“For many years, we’ve been trying to figure out what to do with all of the waste wood products, including brush and some of the larger wood that gets taken out there,” he said. “ReEnergy will get rid of all of the material for free, and they’ll grind it and haul it away to burn at their facility. It’s helpful for them, obviously, because they have a product they can use to make energy. And it’s helpful for us, because we’re running out of room for it at the old quarry.”

ReEnergy will continue to collect debris from the city on an annual basis under the agreement, Mr. Lumbis said. He said the cost savings, which will equate to about $35,000 this year and $10,000 on a typical year, will help carry the city through difficult financial times.

“I think it was really good timing for this to happen. If we didn’t have this, there would have been other items that would probably have to have been cut from our annual budget,” he said.

Brownville Supervisor Richard D. Lane said that ReEnergy, which began working Monday at the town’s storage site, is expected to remove the massive brush pile there in less than two weeks. Mr. Lane said it would have been time-consuming to dispose of the brush pile without the company’s assistance. After the 1998 ice storm, it took about four days for the town to burn a massive brush pile that had accumulated, he said.

“Now we don’t have to put it in a landfill or burn it,” he said, adding that local contractors also have been allowed to drop off brush. “We’re happy that they are willing to come and get it at no cost to us.”

Town of Cape Vincent Highway Superintendent Danny P. Hubbard said that ReEnergy will be contacted to dispose of a brush pile of storm debris at the gravel pit off St. Lawrence Corners Road in the town, known as the “old Bombard pit,” which is shared with the town of Clayton. The Cape Vincent Highway Department, manned by seven employees, is already a month behind its normal work schedule due to the storm cleanup that was completed in May. He said the department simply couldn’t afford to spend another month to grind up the massive brush pile using its own equipment, he said.

“Another month would get us way behind,” he said, adding that most municipalities in Jefferson County have experienced similar setbacks. “We would have to delay it and work on it for a few days at a time, then finish it whenever we could. And it might not be done until the winter or even later.”

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