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Biogas company still eyeing $15-$17m Lowville digester project

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LOWVILLE — Officials from a Florida-based biogas company on Wednesday reiterated their desire to site a $15 million to $17 million manure and food-waste digester facility here.

“This is a sustainability project for farmers and Kraft,” Paul Toretta, CEO of CH4 Biogas, told Lowville town council members and about 20 other local leaders, farmers and residents.

The company has secured a purchase option on land between Route 12 and Markowski Road and is proposing to install two digesters that would convert manure and food waste — most of it piped from the Kraft Foods cream cheese plant on Utica Boulevard — into methane gas. The gas would then be piped back to Kraft and burned on-site for heat and low-cost electricity at the plant, while the processed waste would be returned to the farms.

The manure would be trucked from a dozen or so area farms

The pasteurization and digestion process removes nearly all stench, leaving farmers with a more palatable fertilizer product to spread on their fields, while solid waste products can be used as bedding for cattle, company officials said. They cited positive results at Synergy Biogas, a similar facility completed last year on a large farm in Wyoming County.

“If you ask the farm, the odors went way down,” Mr. Toretta said.

“It’s been a positive impact down there,” added Randal L. Mastin, plant operator at the western New York facility.

The plant itself utilizes a “closed system” that would allow few foul odors to escape, said Robert L. Kieffer, an engineer at T.Y. Lin International in Rochester who is helping with project design and permitting.

“If you were to drive by, you wouldn’t roll your windows up,” said Mr. Kieffer, a Beaver Falls native who attended Clarkson University, Potsdam, with Mr. Toretta.

While the biogas facility would employ only three full-time workers, CH4 Biogas would also utilize local contractors to build it and, once operational, area truckers to haul six to seven truckloads per day of material to and from the facility, company officials said.

The Kraft plant, which employs about 300 people, would also benefit from low-cost power at a long-term fixed price, Mr. Kieffer said. “That’s going to make their plant much more sustainable,” he said.

CH4 Biogas last year sought to buy 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.

Because of a steep decline next to Route 12, the plant’s 70-foot-tall digester silos would be hardly visible from the state road at the new site, Mr. Toretta said.

Town officials contend current zoning law would not allow a biogas facility to be built in any of its zones. However, councilmen have been working on a proposed alternative-energy law and could establish a siting procedure for such a facility through that legislation, Town Supervisor Randall A. Schell said after the meeting.

Mr. Toretta said his company doesn’t plan to sign any agreements with Kraft and local farmers, seek easements from landowners or discuss taxation issues until ensuring there is local support for the project.

It would have to get started by early next spring, since a needed federal investment tax credit is due to expire at the end of 2013, Mr. Toretta said.

Some neighbors and officials expressed concern about the project’s impact on property values and skepticism about the odor issue, since a digester installed at Kraft in 2008 has elicited stench complaints.

The Kraft digester breaks down waste for only a couple days, while the CH4 one would have a 25-day cycle, making it less volatile, Mr. Toretta said.

He invited skeptics to visit the Synergy operation to see and smell for themselves.

Local officials are tentatively planning a facility tour for Aug. 28. Anyone interested may call the town office at 376-8070.

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