MOREAU, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A new chapter has begun in the saga of a fertilizer plant to be built at Moreau Industrial Park. Previous chapters have included public comments, extended deadlines, and, ultimately, a green light. This one involves a lawsuit.
On Thursday, the Clean Air Action Network of Glens Falls, Inc. (CAAN) announced the filing of a petition against the Town of Moreau Planning Board, as well as Northeastern Biochar CEO Raymond Apy. The subject of the suit is Saratoga Biochar, a proposed facility that the Moreau Planning Board recently OK’d for the town’s mostly-vacant industrial park. The facility would produce fertilizer derived from solid human waste leftover from wastewater treatment plants – a core function that has led to no shortage of concerns from the community.
“Ensuring that state and local government agencies abide by the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) is crucial in preventing hasty and unsupported approvals of industrial facilities like this one,” said Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic intern Megan Gaddy, in Thursday’s announcement. “We hope that filing this Article 78 Petition will be the first step in holding the Town of Moreau Planning Board accountable and in keeping the community safe.”
The facility would process as much as 720 tons of “biosolid” waste to be turned into fertilizer, in a process known as pyrolysis. The process involves the application of extreme heat to remove gases containing PFOAs, sulfur dioxide, and other materials. According to Northeastern Biochar, those gases get contained and burned within a completely-regulated closed system.
But the Clean Air Action Network says that the company’s word and plans aren’t enough. The network alleges that the plant would still emit large quantities of potent greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides. In a previous conversation with NEWS10, Apy said that the plant’s main emission would be steam, from the process of drying biosolids after they enter the facility.
CAAN’s petition asks for the New York State Supreme Court to declare invalid the town planning board’s Conditioned Negative Declaration on the project. The declaration, made in March, effectively acts as an “all clear” signal, stating that Saratoga Biochar would pose no significant environmental threat to Moreau or surrounding communities. Following that declaration, further information caused the board to request more time for review – but, in a meeting surrounded by Moreau residents holding “Not Moreau” signs in protest, the project got OK’d.
The network also focuses in on PFAS, harmful chemicals categorized as “forever chemicals” due to their potency and longevity once released into the atmosphere. The CAAN statement points to Northeastern Biochar’s revised air permit application to the DEC, this past June, which stated that the facility would emit some amount of PFAS – something not telegraphed when the public conversation around the facility first got going.
“PFAS in soil or water are taken up by plants. When people or other animals eat plants or animals contaminated with PFAS, these chemicals bioaccumulate in their bodies. Thus animals highest on the food chain, such as human beings, tend to have the highest PFAS levels. PFAS builds up over time because people and other animals do not have a mechanism for excreting or degrading PFAS, which are not found in nature,” the network writes in part.
PFAS has been linked to cancers, thyroid issues and other health issues. In the Queensbury community of Jenkinsville, PFAS exposure in well water has led to a process now a year and a half deep, with many residents living on bottled water as the DEC tests wells at four municipal dumps upstream of the area.
Saratoga Biochar would be Northeastern Biochar’s first facility – another point that CAAN holds against the project in Thursday’s announcement. The biochar company’s CEO declined to comment on specifics of the company’s response to the suit, but feels that CAAN’s information is lacking.
“I can tell you that the complaint is simply a delay tactic that is severely flawed in logic and law and will be readily defeated,” said Apy on Thursday. “None of the claims made are remotely accurate. What is really unfortunate in this is that a group that self-describes as ‘environmental’ has filed a complaint that will only delay a project that has tremendous environmental and human health benefits.”
Moreau Town Supervisor Todd Kusnierz declined to comment.
Currently, the next step before Northeastern Biochar is the receipt of solid waste and air permits from the DEC. Another public comment period will come if the state approves the project. A timeline for forward movement on CAAN’s lawsuit was not yet available as of Thursday.