End Is Nigh for Saltaire Incinerator
By David Crohn

When Noreen Adler moved to the east side of Saltaire from Surf Walk last summer, she was greeted by a most unwelcome neighbor—thick black smoke that made her eyes water and her throat scratchy.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I went out on my roof deck on this beautiful day and there it was. I felt like I was being poisoned.”

Before buying the house on Anchor Walk, where she now vacations with her husband and 7-year-old son, she had heard about the oceanfront incinerator on Beacon Walk. About how every Monday from mid-June to early September—and sometimes Tuesdays and Fridays—it burns the village trash and belches fumes into the sky.

But like many west-side residents, she never noticed unless she was passing through that part of town. Now that she’s downwind of it and just a few blocks away, however, it’s a very different story.

“Coming to the east side was a real eye opener,” she said. “I knew that the smokestack was there but I don’t think I ever smelled it on Surf.”

But it looks like this will be the last summer for the village’s oldest and most notorious employee, thanks to stricter regulations handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency last November.

The village now has until the end of the year to tell the state whether it’s going to upgrade the unit to meet the tougher standards or decommission it. Saltaire hired an engineering firm last month to find out how much those upgrades would cost. Estimated price tag: $2 million.

“My gut is we’re going to end up decommissioning the incinerator and doing something else with the trash here,” said Bob Cox, a village trustee and the public works commissioner. “When you think about $2 million, it’s going to have to be an awfully expensive alternative [to decommissioning].”

Built in the 1960s, the village has kept it running with periodic improvements. Just this spring, thousands were spent on all new scrubbers and other equipment. But it’s “far from the state of the art that would be required under new EPA regulations,” Cox said.

Although it’s a cost-prohibitive option, the village has until 2009 to bring the incinerator into compliance with new regulations if it chooses not to shut it down.

Grace Corradino, who lives in Saltaire year round, said village officials have told her it’s a “fait accompli” that it’ll be gone by the end of the year. And she, for one, cannot wait to be rid of it.

“Those of us on the east end feel disenfranchised, and one of the reasons is that the prevailing winds are out of the southwest,” Corradino said. “And it comes onto our windows, pushing the garbage onto our houses. It’s disgusting.”

Cox said the village is committed to dealing with the problem, especially now that the east end is expanding —the nickname “Rabbittown” from years past no longer applies—and the equipment is aging. “There are days when [the trash] smolders rather than burns,” he said. “And that affects a growing number of people.”

Saltaire is one of only two small municipalities in the state that still burns its garbage, according to village trustee Hugh O’Brien. (Seaview decommissioned their incinerator about 20 years ago.) Old propane tanks and even a starter pistol have been found in the incinerator—raising serious safety concerns.


Disposal Options

Village officials have just begun to consider other ways to deal with residents’ garbage.

Like so much of what happens on Fire Island, it’s a seasonal issue. Trash burning is only necessary in the summer months when the population swells, so the village is considering trucking garbage off year round.

Another option would be to barge trash off, which could require additional construction on the dock. O’Brien said the Fire Island Association likes this option because it would mean fewer trucks driving on the beach.

“I think we need to get our facts together and [think about] the alternatives,” said Cox. “It’s a fairly robust process we have to go through between now and December.” He said the village has already begun to assemble requests for bids from local trucking and barging companies.

Adler also believes the wider environmental implications of burning trash on the island should be considered.

Said Adler, “It’s a moral issue. We’re on a pristine national seashore and I want to keep it that way.