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Lowville digester project may still be in the works

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LOWVILLE — A developer is still eyeing the area for a manure and food-waste digester project but likely will need permitting assistance from the town.

“It’s still slowly moving along,” Eric J. Virkler, Lewis County’s director of economic development and planning, told the Town Council Thursday.

Robert Blythe, president of CH4 Biogas, Atlantic Beach, Fla., last year proposed construction of a facility here that would produce biogas from a mixture of manure and food waste. He initially sought to purchase three acres of village-owned land near its sewage treatment lagoons off East State Street, but village officials ultimately decided to retain the property in case of future expansion needs.

While the developer was unable to complete work on the project last year, he since has secured a purchase option on land along the town of Lowville section of Markowski Road, Mr. Virkler said.

The “next key steps” in the project are to contract with someone to purchase the biogas produced and work through the local permitting process, he said.

Mr. Blythe expects the Kraft Foods plant on Utica Boulevard, which already is equipped to use the gas as a power source, to be the proposed facility’s primary customer, Mr. Virkler said. The developer has had preliminary talks with officials at the cream cheese manufacturing company but he likely won’t move forward with that aspect of the project until permitting issues are resolved, Mr. Virkler said.

“He doesn’t want to lock in an agreement to sell energy until he knows he can build it,” Mr. Virkler said.

The proposed digester site is zoned residential, he said.

While the developer could request a variance, that avenue probably doesn’t make sense because it is questionable whether town zoning law would allow such a facility to be built in any of its zones, Mr. Virkler said.

He suggested the town could approve a zoning change or address such projects in a local law, giving plenty of opportunity for public input and education.

Town officials have been working on a proposed law or laws that would regulate alternative-energy production.

Mr. Virkler, a member of an informal group of agricultural, industrial and municipal officials who have been working on the community digester idea for nearly five years, said the group is considering visits to other biogas facilities, including Synergy Biomass in Wyoming County. That project, an on-farm digester that also takes in additional manure and food waste from elsewhere in that area, was completed by CH4 Biogas late last year, he said, noting the company ultimately hopes to site three more facilities in New York.

The group also might visit a digester being operated by the city of Auburn, Mr. Virkler said.

Town Councilwoman Ruth I. Laribee reiterated concerns about the stench potential and added truck traffic to a digester facility.

Mr. Virkler suggested that town officials participate in the site visits, once they are set, to get a better sense of what biogas facilities are like and possibly allay some concerns.

The area’s largest farms, like Marks and Demko, would not be able to send manure to a biogas facility because they use sand bedding. The project, instead, targets several smaller farms near Lowville for its fuel supply.

Vacuum tanker trucks would transport manure to the digester and treated waste back to the farms, which still could use the finished product as fertilizer.

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