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Biosolids processor eyes Montgomery County site

Biosolids processor eyes Montgomery County site

Proposal gets mostly favorable reception
Biosolids processor eyes Montgomery County site
The Lystek biomass processing plant in Fairfield, Calif., is similar to what is being proposed in the town of Glen.
Photographer: Provided

GLEN — A Canadian company that processes sewage treatment residual solids into commercial fertilizer is looking to build its first New York state treatment plant in rural central Montgomery County, at the town of Glen's industrial park near Thruway Exit 28.

Lystek International of Cambridge, Ontario, wants to locate a plant in the Glen Canal View Business Park on Route 5S just east of Fultonville, because of its proximity to farms that could be customers for its fertilizer, and also the number of municipal sewage treatment plants within a roughly 100-mile radius that could provide bio-solids.

"There's huge demand for fertilizers right in the immediate area," said Kevin Litwiller, the company's director of marketing and communications.

The Town Board last Monday voted to change the zoning for the nearly 300-acre business park, which is still mostly vacant 20 years after its founding, to make it legal for companies like Lystek to move in. Lystek is due to hold a pre-application meeting with the town Planning Board at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, with the expectation it will bring a special use permit application to the board in January.

The town's elected officials, including both the retiring town supervisor and the supervisor-elect, say they favor letting Lystek come into the park — but there is some public opposition.

"I had the opportunity earlier this year to go around and talk to a lot of people, and a lot of them said, 'Is this the best we can do?' " said Town Historian Stephen Helmin, a former Town Board member who ran unsuccessfully for Town Board this past fall.

Helmin said he feels the Town Board gave up its negotiating leverage too quickly in not waiting longer to change the zoning until after the company had provided more information.

But both town Supervisor Lawrence Coddington and Supervisor-elect John Thomas said a Lystek plant could finally bring another business to the park, which has only two or three tenants.

"From what I've seen so far, it seems like a good project," Coddington said. "I live right across the street from the park, so if I thought it was going to be problematic, I wouldn't be in favor of it."

"That park has been sitting empty for 20 years. Our park is set up for smaller businesses. When someone like Dollar General comes in, we're not set up for that," said Thomas, referring to a large Dollar General warehouse being built at an industrial park in the neighboring town of Florida.

Thomas and Helmin are both among town and Montgomery County officials who have visited a Lystek facility outside Toronto, and reported it was clean and largely odor-free, apart from in the production area inside the building.

"It seems the biggest concern of the public is odor, and there is no odor," Thomas said.

Helmin, who was part of an organized citizen effort that helped stop plans for a landfill on land adjoining the business park in the late 1990s, said that to his knowledge no organized opposition has formed to Lystek's plans.

Lystek, which was founded in 2000, has eight plants in Canada; one in Fairfield, California; and another under construction in Minnesota.

The company, founded by two microbiologists at the University of Waterloo, uses a patented process using low heat and alkalyzers to transform solid sewage treatment plant waste into fertilizer, killing pathogenic bacteria in the process. Litwiller said it is an environmentally preferable alternative to the common practices of incinerating those biosolids, sometimes referred to as Class B biosolids, or placing them in a landfill.

"We're painfully aware of the history of Class B biosolids," Litwiller said. "We realize we have some education to do. We're using sound science and a responsible approach to the handling of these materials. We believe very strongly in working with the community. We'll be setting up a public advisory committee to answer questions and share information with the committee."

He said it's in the company's interest to run a high-quality facility, since it will be selling the fertilizer for application in farm fields. "Ultimately we're producing a biofertilizer product that we sell," Litwiller said. "We don't give it away. Farmers pay for it."

The Glen park came to the company's attention through a contact between county economic development leader Ken Rose and George Bevington, a Lystek consultant who previously managed the Gloversville-Johnstown joint sewage treatment plan, Litwiller said.

Lystek is looking at investing $11 million to $12 million in the project, and creating 10 to 20 jobs the company said will be high-paying. It would also add 10 to 20 truck trips per day to local traffic. Helmin said that would be an issue if trucks come through Fonda, which already has truck traffic going to industrial sites in Johnstown and Gloversville.

The company may seek economic development incentive tax breaks, though Litwiller said that decision hasn't been made.

The company has, however, been working with the Montgomery County Business Development Center in Fonda, which overees the county's economic development efforts and has the power to offer and grant tax discounts to attract companies.

Karl W. Gustafson Jr., the county's economic development grant assistant, said the company plans to obtain its needed town approvals before looking for any tax incentives. Gustafson was part of the local delegation that visited Canada in early November.

"I saw nothing wrong with it. They're a very clean company," Gustafson said.

But project opponent Karen Chaplin questioned whether the company should receive any tax breaks, as well as whether the project is a "done deal."

"They're not American, they're Canadian, and they're asking for corporate welfare," she said.

If Lystek filed a formal application in January, the town Planning Board will need to hold a public hearing before acting, so final action isn't likely before March, according to Thomas, who is currently chairman of the Planning Board. He'll become supervisor on Jan. 1.

Lystek's plans are also subject to approval by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Lystek is in the process of pursuing that approval.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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