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Lowville council sets mid-May hearing on proposed digester law

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LOWVILLE — The Town Council will seek public comment next month on a proposed law that would ban large-scale manure digesters and regulate small ones.

“After that, we’ll sit down and digest what is presented,” Supervisor Randall A. Schell said during the board’s monthly meeting Thursday.

Councilmen set a public hearing on the proposed law for 11 a.m. May 16, with a hearing on a tentative law regulating solar energy systems set for 11:15 a.m. the same day.

Mr. Schell reported that the draft digester law had been sent to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets and that an official there expressed concerns with small-digester requirements, including setback distances and prohibition of any delivery of feedstock from off site.

He suggested that an exemption could be granted to farm operations in an agricultural district, the supervisor said.

Rather than make changes now, Mr. Schell suggested moving forward with the public hearing and including the Ag and Markets response as part of the official record.

The board still could tweak the law after the hearing, with another public hearing required only if substantial changes are made, according to town attorney Raymond A. Meier.

Councilmen in September floated an initial version of the law that would have regulated only siting of both small and large digesters. Several residents and the village Board of Trustees came out in opposition to the proposal, and the law was redrafted to prohibit such digesters.

Concerns cited in the law include the difficulty of monitoring pathogens in trucked-in waste, odor and noise from digester operation, increased truck traffic, potential for hauling through residential areas, possibility of spills on roads and “emission of greenhouse gases, nitrogen, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, ammonia and particulate matter on a much larger scale than with small anaerobic digesters.”

Small, on-farm digesters — defined as those using manure generated from a single farm to generate energy for that farm — would be allowed as an accessory agricultural use, as long as they are on lots of 10 acres or larger with setbacks of at least 100 feet from roads and other side and rear property lines and 300 feet from neighboring homes.

Town officials have been working on a digester law for some time, partly in response to a proposal by CH4 Biogas, Atlantic Beach, Fla., to site a commercial digester in the Lowville area. The town last year denied a zoning change that would have been needed to site the project in Lowville, and Kraft opted not to work with CH4 after retaining a low-cost power agreement through the ReCharge NY program.

Meanwhile, the proposed solar law would set height, setback and other limits for small-scale systems, while large systems with a capacity of more than 25 kilowatts could be sited only on a lot of 100 acres or more, with the project footprint allowed to occupy only up to half the lot size.

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