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Lewis County Planning Board approves Lowville digester proposal with suggestion


LOWVILLE — The Lewis County Planning Board has signed off on the town of Lowville’s proposed law that would ban large-scale manure digesters and regulate small ones.

However, board members on Thursday recommended town leaders consider a slight change to definitions, citing some confusion as to whether the law could outlaw all digesters, even ones that process only food waste.

“The county Planning Board believes that it may be necessary for the town to clarify the definition of ‘feedstock’ as an input to anaerobic digesters,” stated a comment attached to the approval. “The board is concerned if this term includes food waste.”

The Lowville Town Council sent the county Planning Board an initial version of the law in September intended to regulate siting of 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, and the law was redrafted to prohibit such digesters.

Concerns cited in the law 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 roads and “emission of greenhouse gases, nitrogen, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, ammonia and particulate matter on a much larger scale than with small anaerobic digesters.”

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.

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 had 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.

However, town leaders last year opposed a zoning change that would have been needed to site the project in Lowville, and Kraft opted not to work with CH4 after retaining a low-cost power agreement through the ReCharge NY program.

The county board’s comments on the digester law are expected to be discussed at the Town Council’s next meeting on March 21, said Supervisor Randall A. Schell.

However, a public hearing and vote will probably not happen until at least May, so it may be handled simultaneously with a proposed law regulating solar energy systems, he said.

Council members approved sending that law to the county Planning Board for review Thursday. However, because that board holds its monthly meetings on the same day as the Town Council, the council likely won’t be able to discuss comments on the solar law until April, when it could set a public hearing for its May session.

The proposed law would set height, setback and other limits for small-scale solar systems, while large systems with a capacity of more than 25 kilowatts could only be sited on a lot of 100 acres or greater with the project footprint allowed to occupy only up to half the lot size.

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