MOREAU, N.Y. (NEWS10) – In August of 1994, 243 acres of land were acquired by the town of Moreau, zoned for heavy industrial use, and designated as the Moreau Industrial Park. That park was divided into 26 shovel-ready lots, one of which soon became home to Hexion, an adhesive manufacturer that’s called a lot home since 1997.
For 25 years since, Hexion has been the only company to inhabit the park. Now, that’s finally set to change, as a carbon-negative fertilizer business makes plans to set up shop in one of the park’s many vacant lots. Even to those who have lived in Moreau for 20 years, it may come as a surprise to be reminded that the industrial-zoned site near the Hudson River is even there.
“I have heard of issues and concerns from residents who live near the park,” said Moreau Town Supervisor Todd Kusnierz on Tuesday. “Some of them have moved to Moreau more recently, and others have been here for many years.”
The park’s new tenant is Northeastern Biochar, which is looking to construct Saratoga Biochar Solutions as its first facility. The planned 74,300 square-foot site would intake biosolids – the solid byproduct of sewage that has already gone through a wastewater treatment plant – and turn it into fertilizer. The plant would be built in three phases, combining two lots in the industrial park, and would employ around 20 people once it’s fully operational.
Northeastern Biochar found Moreau ready and willing to make a deal. Kusnierz feels that previous town administrations didn’t put much emphasis on advertising the park to potential tenants. When he stepped in, he made it a goal to become an ambassador for the park. That ambassadorship has made a lasting impact on the park’s new tenant.
“We applied to the Town of Moreau planning board about 9 months ago, and I’ll tell you this: I respect them immensely, and they haven’t made it fun for us, and they haven’t made it easy for us,” said Raymond Apy, CEO of Northeastern Biochar, on Wednesday. “And rightly so. They have done their due diligence, put us through 9 months of exhaustive review and meetings, and taken it upon themselves to understand every aspect of this.”
Now – for both the town and the company – one big challenge is reaching an understanding with the people of Moreau. 123 of those people (as of late Wednesday) follow the Facebook page “Not Moreau,” an advocacy page for people who disagree with the plant, or the industrial park in general, operating in Moreau.
The page is operated by former Moreau Town Board member Gina LeClair. A recent post by her recounts a discussion with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, where she was told that a community group would have to bring research and hard evidence of harm in order to get the Biochar plant halted. She is currently looking for people willing to help her research.
“(The industrial park) was a billion-dollar mistake that a board made 30 years ago,” said LeClair. She recalls having just recently moved her family to Moreau when the park was zoned.
LeClair described the story of an anonymous friend who lives adjacent to the industrial park, and whose neighbor owned property that would be the viable location for the park’s main access roads, where trucks would carry supplies for any business in operation there – such as the roughly 20 per day that Northeast Biochar expects. That friend urged her neighbor not to sell – and he didn’t. She worried that the traffic created by the park would create a safety risk for her family. LeClair says her friend isn’t the only one who shares those fears.
“The road I live on doesn’t even have yellow lines,” LeClair described. “It doesn’t have a shoulder. Other roads they’re looking at are residential-type roads. They have lines, but they’re not heavy traffic roads. To bring that type of traffic by all of these homes on these roads does not seem like a wise or safe idea.”
As of Tuesday, LeClair planned to contact the Moreau Zoning Commissioner to find out whether the daily trucks that would serve Northeastern Biochar consist of one-way or round trips. For her and others on the Facebook page, it’s a matter of getting properly educated about the first development to crop up in the park in the entire time that many of them has been there.
Moreau’s Town Planning Board is holding a meeting at 7 p.m. on May 12 regarding the plan. LeClair said she expects many residents to attend, with letters to read on what impact they feel the facility – and the industrial park as a whole – could have on the town.
Kusnierz is a firm believer in growing Moreau’s industry – having been a champion of the creation of the town’s sewer line in 2018 – but isn’t blind to the surprise that the Biochar facility may be for some. All information related to the park has been available online at least throughout Kusnierz’s own term, which began at the start of 2018. Even so, issues like traffic are ones he hopes to address.
“The town would like to have any traffic issues mitigated if possible. It may not be possible, but one of the things we can do is – talking in general – work with companies, so that if you have a lot of volume passing through, you can do it over more hours, to keep that mitigated.”
The Moreau Planning Board looks at those sorts of issues as part of the planning process, which is currently ongoing for Biochar. The Saratoga Biochar facility would receive trucks carrying biosolids between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. If the facility sees 20 trucks per day, that comes down to about 1.6 trucks per hour.
Biochar: How it works
Those 20 trucks per day carry biosolids supplied by a contractor that carries organic products throughout the northeast United States. To start, the materials will be diverted from that company’s other contracts, many of which are located in the Saratoga and Albany areas. Another advantage to choosing Moreau as the plant’s home base is its proximity to Route 9 and the Adirondack Northway.
“You, unknowingly, have many times driven adjacent to, by, around, or seen pass you by, a dump truck with a very tight, thick, heavy tarp over it,” Apy described. “It’s usually pretty clean-looking, you’d never know what’s in it. It looks like it could be hauling waste or anything.”
The biosolids are essentially a form of organic sludge left behind by the wastewater treatment process in whatever municipality they originate from. Once they arrive at Saratoga Biochar, everything done to those materials happens indoors, effectively eliminating any chance of contaminating surrounding wildlife, or the nearby Hudson River. That’s important for the river in particular, especially with changes in regulations following the several years of dredging to remove decades of PFOA sediment left by the former Fort Edward General Electric dewatering facility.
Once a truck arrives, it enters an indoor garage and is closed in immediately, to manage the odors that come with the job. Air circulates through a treatment system before leaving the facility. The site is being modeled after a similar facility in Zion, Illinois.
“(A Northeast Biochar employee) has gone to look at that site many times,” Apy said. “He’s stood in front of those doors and can be standing out in front of it on a windy day, and feel air being pulled into the building. There are no odors escaping.”
From there, biosolids are dumped out of the truck and into a pit, which serves as their entry to what Apy describes as an enclosed system. The solids enter a dryer, where moisture is removed. Despite being the refuse of wastewater treatment, biosolids are still about 80% water when they arrive. After the drying process, they will be down to just 5%.
The drying process is where Saratoga Biochar will create its primary source of emissions – steam. Once moisture and gases the facility uses a heat-based biofilter to target the process’ other emission, called synthesis gas, which can contain PFOAs, sulfur dioxide, and other harmful materials. That gas is quickly contained and burned.
“In essence, we basically cover every regulated air emission, and have aimed to have the lowest greenhouse gas footprint possible,” said co-founder Bryce Meeker. “We’re able to tune our process toward what we call maximum resource recovery. We try to remove as little as possible, and leave as much as we can for the farmer, and keep the fertilizer’s value.”
The resulting fertilizer is hydrated to control dust, and then packaged to be sold. and then is prepared to be sold. The hope is to sell it in larger stores on a national level, but also to see it sold and used well locally, eyeing area stores and Washington County farmland.
The goal is to create a cycle where fewer PFOAs and other harmful contaminants end up on lawns and farms, and in water and food supplies, than is currently allowed via other methods. To the north in Queensbury, residents of the Jenkinsville neighborhood have been drinking exclusively bottled water for over a year per precaution from the DEC, after PFOAs and 1,4-dioxane were found in wells. The DEC is still studying the nearby landfill believed to be the cause. Northeastern Biochar’s ultimate goal is to end the chain of microplastics, PFOAs and other particles showing up in backyards, water sources, and human bodies.
The project is estimated to cost around $44 million or more, dependent in large part on the cost of steel as supply chain issues continue to warp prices. It will be built in three phases. In between each phase, the company will have to check in with the DEC and the town of Moreau to ensure that they aren’t causing any harm or overstepping any boundaries.
“When we complete phase 1, we’re going to test it, make sure it works,” described Meeker. “And then, we have to go back to the DEC to start stage 2. At each point, there’s a check and balance in the system where we cannot just go out and go to maximum capacity immediately.”
The timeline is to start the first phase this summer, finished in 2023. Commercial operations are planned to start sometime in 2024. When they begin, the site will see just one truck visit per day.