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NY Lawmaker Issues Call For Statewide Moratorium On Sludge Facilities

A New York state Assemblyman is calling for a moratorium on sewage sludge facilities in New York.

UPDATE (Monday evening) LYSTEKchanges course

Last year, Canadian waste treatment technology company Lystek International filed a proposal to build a sewage processing facility in Montgomery County at the Glen Canal View Business Park on Route 5S. The Town of Glen, rich in agriculture, includes a large Amish community among its population of 2,500, according to the town’s website.

Steve Helmin is with Citizens Against Local Landfills or CALL.  "This is a community-wide issue. The plans for this plant would be to import sewage sludge from up to 150 miles away and then redistribute it once they've treated it."

If approved by the town planning board, the operation would bring approximately 150,000 tons of sewage sludge into Glen a year, for conversion into "biosolid fertilizer."

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara represents the 111th district.  A civil engineer by trade, the Democrat says the proposed plant is "a public health concern." He says he pulled and researched maps including the United States Geological Survey mapping of the area, which he points out includes a fresh water source underneath the business park.  "The project site is located on top of an aquifer that runs through Montgomery County, a significant source of water, and the way this company operate is, the sewage sludge that's imported and that's transported in would be contained onsite up to 75,000 tons, which is six months’ worth of sewage that would be coming in out of the 150,000 tons."

The aquifer is less than a mile from the Mohawk River. Santabarbara says the conversion process involves potentially dangerous materials including human waste, farm animal waste, and food waste, such as yogurt by-products.

Although Lystek's initial application was rejected in March, the following month CALL filed a lawsuit against the Town of Glen, which says the planning board failed to use proper procedure when it changed zoning regulations that expanded allowable uses for land in the business park. CALL spokesperson Stella Gittle tells WNYT: "There's not another facility like this in the United States so really we'd be guinea pigs."

Meantime, Santabarbara worries about odors the plant would produce and what could happen if there was a leak under the facility. "The liner that holds this sewage sludge must be inspected for cracks and for leaks and for tears. Leaks, any leaks that come through that liner could contaminate that aquifer and any nearby neighboring wells supplying water to local residents. It's a very big concern, a big red flag for me. This site is just not a good site to locate this facility. That's why I've called for this moratorium. I've written a letter to DEC to investigate and review, to get more information on this type of operation to see if we want any plants, any sewage processing plants like this, not just here, but anywhere in New York state."

Helmin says CALL has been in touch with residents of a Canadian town where a similar plant has been built:   "They complained about odor. One of our village trustees went to a facility that's not quite the same, it's a little different in California, but it would handle the same amount of biosolids. There were complaints about the odor from five to seven miles from the plant."

Lystek, which has not returned calls for comment from WAMC, had previously asserted that its plan and process is "organic and safe." https://youtu.be/1F1A5Pehbuk" target="_blank">On YouTube, the company states it fosters responsible use of biosolids – and is committed to helping the environment.

The DEC emailed a statement in response to a request for comment:

"The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has not received an application for this proposed project. The Town of Glen has assumed the role of lead agency under the State Environmental Quality Review act. DEC subjects all applications to a rigorous review to ensure projects have no impact on public health or the environment."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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