MOREAU, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Last Thursday, the town of Moreau hosted a public hearing regarding Northeast Biochar Solutions, which intends to build its first fertilizer plant, Saratoga Biochar, on two plots of land at Moreau Industrial Park. The park has only had one occupant since the 1990s, and with that set to change, residents of the town want to know what could be set to change in the water and the air.
And ask they did. A public comment hearing on Thursday ended with the Town of Moreau voting to seek an independent review on the project. The Biochar facility would see as many as 20 trucks per day carrying biosolids – the solids extracted at wastewater treatment plants – to be processed into fertilizer.
Northeast Biochar has been vocal about the safety of the plan. In a previous story by NEWS10, processes were described that would keep PFOAs or other harmful contaminants from entering the atmosphere via exhaust. For the residents of Moreau, though, those words aren’t enough on their own.
“(Northeast Biochar) said there would be less methane emissions from this project than in a landfill,” said Moreau resident Matt Boucher. “Currently we have no landfill in the industrial park. I’m happy with the zero we have now, and am not looking to add any more to that.”
Boucher, who serves as Superintendent of Putnam Central School District, was one of many residents who stepped up to speak, five minutes at a time, at Moreau Town Hall. He voiced concerns about the possible impact of the Biochar plant on the village of Fort Edward, across the Hudson River, in an area that has seen its share of ecological impact from the former General Electric dewatering site.
Boucher also brought up concerns with the viability of the DEC’s work with the town of Moreau and Northeast Biochar. He also said he didn’t believe it made sense to haul in waste from other communities when the town does not operate its own landfill.
“There is zero chance that this would ever pass in the community that I work in. Zero. I stake my career on it,” Boucher said.
A running theme among several public comments was a lack of trust in data from Northeast Biochar that was not reviewed by a neutral third party. A requirement of the application process was that Northeast Biochar undergo a New York State Environmental Quality Review Act.
That review received an all-clear, citing no harm to the environment. However, not all residents feel that the green light was earned. Gina LeClair, a former Moreau Town Board member who operates the anti-Biochar Facebook page “Not Moreau,” advocated for an independent review of the Biochar facility as a way to provide reassurance that residents have been without.
“The fact that it takes time for the review should be irrelevant,” LeClair said. “Developers know this may be a part of their review process, and they are required to pay the cost for the town to hire independent experts to verify the facts and protect our community.”
The review would have the potential to slow down the project – which Northeast Biochar CEO Raymond Apy said has already seen delays and roadblocks as his company worked to get aspects of its design within Moreau and DEC specifications for environmental safety. The facility was first proposed to the town in May 2021, and the town detailed that 13 large steps had been reached since then.
“Saratoga Biochar will happily be subjected to permit compliance monitoring, testing and recordkeeping of all equipment operation of course including the air emissions treatment system. DEC has not issued our air permit yet so therefore we don’t know yet what testing and monitoring they will require but I do expect it will be comprehensive and full of certain conditions we must meet, especially in the first year of operation as we prove that the system works as designed. We expect to test emissions and fertilizer product even more than required because we want to know our business inside and out with 100% certainty, and we desire to achieve a gold star from NYS DEC because that will really help us expand our business in other areas of NY and in other states,” Northeast Biochar said in part in a statement.
One Moreau resident, Lauren LaFond, said she had been researching air quality since her own time attending area school districts decades ago. In that time, she has seen data and charts presented at meetings on industrial growth, and feels that those are not always the best way to communicate the feelings of a community. Instead, she wrote a poem.
“Commercial burning always brings / respiratory illness and other bad things / heart disease, strokes, and cancer too / early death for me and you,” LaFond read in part.
The Moreau Town Board voted unanimously in favor of having an independent review performed on the project. Next, the town will assemble a list of criteria that the Biochar facility will be evaluated upon, which will be discussed further in a meeting in June.