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Lowville officials considering ban on commercial manure digesters

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LOWVILLE — Several months after rejecting a large-scale manure digester project here, town officials are considering a ban on any such projects.

The Town Council voted 5-0 Thursday to send a draft anaerobic digester law to the Lewis County Planning Board for a second review, given that the new version would disallow large digesters from being erected in the town.

“You’ve got a pretty substantial change here, from regulating a use to prohibiting it,” town attorney Raymond A. Meier said.

Councilmen in September sent the county Planning Board an initial version of the law intended to regulate siting of both small and large digesters. The Planning Board approved the local law, with several recommendations such as establishing specific regulations for odor and noise.

However, several residents and the village Board of Trustees came out in opposition to the proposal, expressing concerns about allowing any commercial digester facility that would accept manure and other waste from off site.

Mr. Meier said that, based on the apparent consensus of the Town Council from its meeting a few weeks ago, he redrafted the law to make such digesters a prohibited use.

Small, on-farm digesters — defined as those using manure generated from a single farm to generate energy for that farm — would be allowed as an accessory agricultural use, so long as they are sited on lots of 10 acres or larger with setbacks of at least 100 feet from roads and other side and rear property lines and 300 feet from any neighboring homes. A small anaerobic digester permit would have to be obtained from the town zoning enforcement officer.

“I don’t like to ban a use,” town Supervisor Randall A. Schell said, “but it can be revisited.”

Mr. Schell said it would be wise to get feedback from the county Planning Board before setting a public hearing on the proposed law and adopting it.

The new version of the draft law includes a “statement of legislative findings” on large digesters intended to justify the proposed ban and make it more difficult to challenge in court, Mr. Meier said.

“When you do something like that, you have to have a reason,” he said.

There currently are no manure digesters in the county.

The Town Council has “a number of concerns and negative factors concerning the operation of large anaerobic digesters,” the proposed law states.

They include the difficulty of monitoring pathogens in trucked-in waste, odor and noise from digester operation, increased truck traffic, potential for hauling through residential areas, possibility of spills on roadways and “emission of greenhouse gases, nitrogen, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, ammonia and particulate matter on a much larger scale than with small anaerobic digesters.”

Expansion of a small digester to receive material from or provide power to another site also would be prohibited.

Town leaders have been working on a digester law for some time, partly in response to a proposal by CH4 Biogas, Atlantic Beach, Fla., to site a commercial digester in the Lowville area. The company for the past couple of years has been looking to build a facility that would convert manure and food waste into methane gas, which would be piped to the Kraft Foods cream cheese plant on Utica Boulevard and burned on site for heat and low-cost electricity there. The processed waste would be returned to the dozen or so participating farms.

CH4 secured a purchase option on land between Route 12 and Markowski Road, but the Town Council in September blocked that plan by denying a needed zoning change.

There have been some discussions on siting the project in the neighboring town of Martinsburg, instead, but no formal action has been taken.

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