Composters need proactive campaign tactics to battle NIMBYism

The article below was Published January 2014 in Composting News.

Not every community wants a composting facility in its area because of concerns about potential contamination of the environment, the facility's large footprint or the possibility of undesirable odors, among other reasons. Therefore, proposed composting facilities across the U.S. are met with constant opposition from local communities, delaying their approval or blocking the facility from being built altogether.

Countless examples demonstrate community opposition organizing to effectively stall composting facility developments. However, there are tactics companies can employ to greatly increase their chances at successful project approval. Companies that take a proactive approach can transform the silent majority into a broad, vocal base of support for their development.

Just last fall, in Cooper Township, Mich., residents organized a successful campaign against a proposed composting facility. The facility would have been built by the Cocoa Corp. as the first high-grade composting site in the area, but opponents argued that the facility was too close to residential areas and the Kalamazoo River. In this case, opponents managed to take opposition to the next level by instating a one-year moratorium to prevent any further composting facility development in the town.

Community opposition can negatively impact existing composting facilities decades after project completion. For example, in eastern New York City, a 12- year battle between developers and residents has severely inhibited one composting facilityís operations. The New York City Department of Sanitation first opened the facility in 2001 and received a draft permit in 2002, but immediately faced opposition from residents. Opponents fought the facilityís operation in New York State Department of Environmental Conservation administrative courts, resulting in the facility ceasing functional operation during this time.

The facility is situated in Spring Creek Park, a convenient location for collection of yard waste from homes and parks in Brooklyn and Queens. After a final permit was granted in 2012, local residents and a conservation organization took the operators to state court alleging the facility did not fit the parks-only mandate for operation on the land and was a violation of public trust. In December 2013, the Supreme Court of New York ruled in favor of the opponents, halting the facilityís operation until state legislature approves the facilityís continued operation at the site. The decision comes as a setback to the cityís goal to reduce waste sent to landfills by 75 percent by 2030.

Companies need to look at their strategy of building public support to counter the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) effect to projects, as the outcome for a smooth entitlement of their projects are at risk. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that in 2011 more than 350 energy projects were delayed or abandoned due to public opposition. The economic impact of these projects were estimated at about $1.1 trillion in GDP and 1.9 million jobs a year. That is a great deal of missed opportunity in terms of jobs and clean waste disposal - all due to public opposition.

A public outreach campaign in the early stages of project development is the key strategy that is too often missed by project developers. Having run public affairs campaigns for 20 years, I have found that opponents of new projects often seem to utilize this strategy very well.

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