© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

DEC continues to hear community comments on proposed biochar facility

Local residents hoping to stop a proposed biochar facility in Saratoga County attended two hearings last week.

Community members and opposition organizers flooded the auditorium of the South Glens Falls Senior High School Auditorium Thursday to plead with the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation to reject the Saratoga Biochar Solution’s plans.

The proposed facility would see more than 700 tons of biosolids, or sewage sludge, shipped from all over New York State to the Moreau plant six days a week.

Democratic state Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner of the 113th district was the first to speak, and takes issue with the proposed plant being the first of its kind in the nation.

“The system proposed to be sited at Moreau Industrial Park has never been built and operated around the clock and at the volume anticipated in the permit application. As with any first-generation system I think it is reasonable to expect that this first-of-its-kind system would experience problems and failures once it is operational that will require some amount of reengineering and course correction. This is just a realistic assumption of what happens in the real world,” said Woerner.

DEC requires compliance testing between 60 and 100 days after the system is operating at full tilt and again five years later. Woerner cautioned that that timeframe could lead to unforeseen harm to the surrounding communities.

“And if I am correct in my assumption that any first generation system will experience some number of problems and failures once it’s operation in production, that would mean that if there are emissions that exceed the stated limits, that condition could exist for a number of years before detection. In a healthy community, perhaps this level of oversight is sufficient. But Moreau, Fort Edward, and Hudson Falls are not healthy communities. It pains me to say that so bluntly, but it is the sad truth,” said Woerner.

The region has grappled with historic pollution from companies like General Electric, leaving large portions of the area as designated “disadvantaged communities” with higher pollution-related health impacts such as cancer.

Speaking with WAMC, Saratoga Biochar President Bryce Meeker emphasized that the proposed facility will be using a combination of existing technologies, and that no new, untested technologies will be used.

“The issue is being blown out of proportion here, in the sense that we are already obligated to have continuous emission monitoring on our equipment. And the stack test is one of these things that’s used to make sure all of the equipment is calibrated. I mean, these are known processes, that’s the thing. It’s not like there’s a lot new here in terms of our wet scrubbing is used extensively in waste water treatment plants in numerous other industries for air emissions control,” said Meeker.

Of more than 40 speakers, many focused on a key question: why Moreau?

Carrie Trzaskos recounted a conversation she had with her young son.

“My son asked me this morning on the way to school, ‘Mom, of all the places in New York State, why here?’ He went on to pull up his phone and showed me a New York State map and pointed to various locations without residential settings near them, or without water sources. Contrary to this site sitting over our primary aquifer and next to the Hudson River. My response to him was that the only thing I could think of is that our area already has sustained so much pollution, that perhaps it’s perceived as a perfect test location,” said Trzaskos.

Peter Bondzinski was one of many who petitioned the DEC to reject the proposal outright.

“This whole area is considered a ‘disadvantaged community,’ what does it mean? What are the benefits of that? I hope it means somebody will step up and protect us. Somebody like the DEC, and say ‘This area does not need to be a guinea pig for another unknown, unproven project,” said Bondzinski.

The Moreau planning board found that the proposed plant posed a negligible environmental risk, ultimately leading to a political upheaval in the town. Republican Moreau Supervisor Todd Kusnierz lost his re-election bid by a 3-to-1 margin to Jesse Fish, who pledged to stop the biochar facility.

The Clean Air Action Network lost an initial appeal of the planning board’s decision, but representatives say the organization will continue to appeal.

Like many in the room, Brandon Aird was fed up with how much effort it had taken to put a halt to the proposed facility. Aird lives within miles of the Moreau Industrial Park where the plant would be located, and brought some levity to an otherwise emotional night of testimony.

“I think this project’s a joke. I think it is like a fart, if we try to push it through, it’s gonna be crap,” said Aird.

The DEC is taking written comments on the project until March 4th.