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Saratoga Biochar facility debate continues in Moreau

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Yes & No in Moreau

Signs in Moreau express support, at left, and opposition, right, to a proposal by Saratoga Biochar to build a facility in the Moreau Industrial Park. 

MOREAU — A petition asking people to “Say no to pollution in the Adirondacks” has gained 625 signatures since the community organized group Not Moreau’s 70-person protest on July 29.

The group is comprised of citizens concerned with the plans moving forward for a carbon fertilizer factory to be built in the Moreau Industrial Park. The proposed plant would process up to 15% of New York’s biosolids, as well as waste from surrounding states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Biosolids are solid waste from wastewater treatment plants that Saratoga Biochar Solutions would process into carbon fertilizer.

Those who are opposed are concerned that the process the plant uses, known as “pyrolysis,” would emit long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these chemicals have been found in the environment, and overexposure to them can cause harmful health effects to humans and animals.

According to Saratoga Biochar Solutions’ website, the plant would utilize state-of-the-art air quality controls to recover solids instead of burning them like an incinerator.

One of Not Moreau’s organizers, Holly Johnson, said residents of Moreau and the surrounding communities are entitled to more information on a topic “even the EPA does not fully understand yet.”

Biochar CEO Ray Apy said Not Moreau’s questions have already been answered.

“The concerns that continue to be raised by the Not Moreau group have already been addressed extensively through the town Planning Board’s review and public hearing process over the past 15 months. The Not Moreau group just refuses to accept the answers, or believes anyone other than themselves. They do not believe in the town leadership, or the Planning Board, or the New York State DEC, or Saratoga Biochar,” Apy said on Friday.

He acknowledged the growing number of supporters the group had gained, but also cited the new group in town, Yes Moreau. The community-organized group has placed signs around the town that read “Learn the facts” and include the Saratoga Biochar website. He said the new group was in favor of “growth, development and eco-friendly businesses such as Saratoga Biochar.”

Apy told The Post-Star he believes the project will be approved because of the support for the facility.

“We believe the town Planning Board will vote to approve our application as it is backed by a multitude of third-party reviews ranging from NYS DEC (air and water facility permits and compliance), the town’s own water/wastewater and highway superintendents, the city of Glens Falls wastewater treatment plant authorities, the South Glens Falls fire department along with Saratoga County Emergency Response, and the town’s own designated third party engineering firm, the LaBerge Group,” Apy said.

“Given the scope and depth of those reviews, the Planning Board voted against additional third party review, deeming it an unnecessary, duplicative step,” he added.

Johnson said she understands Apy’s point of view on the additional study costing time and money, but thinks the residents deserve a third-party review.

“In December, the Planning Board members agreed to have a third-party expert study, paid for by Saratoga Biochar, conducted to confirm the answers provided by the company. Something happened and that changed, no one was ever told why. The people just want to know why,” she said.

Johnson said the members of her group just want the board to take another look at the proposal and the potential impacts on the community.

“We understand that this is hard work, it’s a difficult position, I get that,” she said. “But we are really hoping the Planning Board will hire an independent consultant to review the data. There is just still so much unknown.”

Apy, however, said the group has a different motive entirely.

“It has become crystal clear that the Not Moreau movement is really about not wanting an industrial park in town, or any industrial development at all, as they are now promoting the concept of getting the industrial park rezoned. I do not believe that a majority of area residents agree with that,” he said.

He also returned to the subject of the “lawful tacit approval,” which occurs when the board does not vote on a project within a certain timeframe. The company’s lawyer and the town’s attorney reminded the board of this at the last meeting, but Apy said he would “prefer their process to come to its natural conclusion with a majority vote.”

Johnson recently posted copies of the State Environmental Quality Review, or SEQR, workbook, completed by the company and the pages completed by the Moreau Planning Board, to the group’s Facebook page.

Her post urges residents to submit comments to the DEC expressing their concerns. She said after review of the documents, the DEC will open a public comment period.

Apy said his company is discouraged by the posts on the group’s Facebook page and fears they are spreading misinformation.

“Very recently, we see claims that Saratoga Biochar would import toxic and even radioactive waste, which is an outright lie and took root when Planning Board member (Ann) Purdue read a speech at the last meeting and purposefully used those inflammatory words,” Apy said. “We also see EPA documents being misrepresented extensively, and a complete ignoring of the extensive third-party research and testing literature that we and others have provided.”

Apy said all DEC permit applications for waste handling require the applicant to address such topics as radioactive and hazardous waste, regardless of whether or not the applicant is actually applying for permission to handle such materials.

Johnson said one of the biggest issues with the SEQR that was submitted was the use of a 25-year-old traffic study.

“To me, it’s insane to rely on a 25-year-old study in a town that has grown exponentially since then,” Johnson laughed.

Apy said he is not against the community.

“We know that the folks of Not Moreau are good people and they have a right to be heard. We just hope that the balance of the community is able to distinguish opinions and inflammatory statements from facts,” he said.

The next vote regarding the Biochar plant has not been set by the board since an option for an additional 45 days to craft a resolution was taken at July’s meeting.

Jana DeCamilla is a staff writer who covers Moreau, Queensbury, and Lake George. She can be reached at 518-742-3272 or jdecamilla@poststar.com.

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