I left the Saratoga Biochar Public Meeting with more questions than answers...
How many attendees of the Hudson Falls public meetings share this sentiment. After climbing to the 5th floor of the Sandy Hill Arts Center and listening to the same presentation for the 3rd time, how many residents walked away with more questions than when they came in. The emergency Hands off the Hudson meeting on Friday confirmed that we all witnessed the same circus and shared many of the same questions that emerged from the answers SBS provided to our questions. We were able to solidify them into 10 different categories.
1. No Trials, just Models
The glaring take away from the meetings this week is that there is a lack of data from experimental trials or tests. What little research and development that was conducted produced data that, as to date, we have not been able to access. SBS does have data on the 31 chemicals that will be in the plume refuse to share it with members of the public. SBS claims this is proprietary information and if they were to share it, then it would give their competitors a look into their process. Meeker's also defends his decision to keep the chemicals a secret because even if he did share it, “these people don’t understand this stuff”.
2. SBS Fertilizer is illegal to use in NYS
SBS’s claims about the fertilizer it is producing are speculation as well. The facts are that the fertilizer will be illegal to sell for private lawn use, as the phosphorus levels are much higher than the legal limit.
Meeker theorizes that the extra phosphorus is not going to Leech into our waterways, like the Hudson River, causing nutrient blooms and eutrophication. There is no data to confirm his theory that organic carbon in the fertilizer will "soak up" the extra ions and prevent them from leaching into the waterways.
SBS has not conducted any of the experiments necessary to support its claims. It is still working in the theoretical field and also lack an understanding of chemistry to boot. On the contrary, the research conducted by Marie Sophn, demonstrates that Biochar (produced by wastewater sludge) is the least efficient method to bind organic phosphorus. Read the paper here.
3. Periodic, not continuous monitoring
The biggest question that resulted from the meetings is how SBS has stated on numerous occasions that it will have continuous testing, but now seems to only be periodic testing. This was stressed even more when Casella confirmed that it would not be testing every truck coming in but would be performing tests occasionally. The rational is that the sewage coming in is uniform.
Is SBS not importing sludge from a number of sewer districts across the northeast? Wouldn’t it be more likely that sewage from one district would vary greatly from another. Paint, pharmaceuticals, cleaning products, motor vehicle fluids, and grease/fats/oils enter the sewer system and will be a component of the biosolid entering the facility .
Even more concerning is that stack emissions are not able to test for PFAS continuously at this time. And although the technology may become available in the future, SBS stated that they would only be testing emissions periodically, as it needs to be sent to a lab.
4. Truck Route
I don’t think there was a single person that felt the 1200 trucks per hour was a number that made sense. Also, though a new study was requested multiple times by residents of Moreau, it was never approved. I didn’t ever sit down and do the math, but not to worry, someone else did. The largest shipping yard in the nation, after an impressive build up, was revealed to have a max capacity of 1000 trucks per hour. Are we to believe a multi billion dollar operation with its own highway system was still less efficient than the Moreau industrial park. Watch the meeting here.
Perhaps now we can stop listening to Ray Apy boast about the minor impact 50 trucks per day would have on the community. We were also provided with the information that 50 trucks a day actually calculates to 3 trucks per hour, 24 hours per day, 6 days per week, 52 weeks per year. Thats 1.5 olympic pools of sewage sludge per day. Enough to fill the entire Empire State building every year, for 50 years.
5. Environmental Review
One requirement of the Negative Declaration issued by the Moreau Planning Boards is that the surrounding area will not be impacting an environment that supports endangered or at-risk species of plants and animals. Referenced in the Negative Declaration is the environmental study conducted more than 20 years ago. Outdated and, if similar to the traffic study, potentially flawed, this environmental study should not fulfill the DEC’s requirement for limiting industries impact on the plants and animals that live here.
Currently in the middle of a multimillion dollar restoration of the Hudson River, Hudson Falls and Fort Edward have worked tirelessly to restore the health of the river and its surrounding ecosystems after they were decimated by GE and other polluting industries. Why would communities use a different, unproved industry that will process 15% of New York State's sewage sludge in addition to Connecticut and Massachusetts that has never been tested or produced reviewable data for analysis. Communities like this need a break. They need to be able to live without the constant threat of industrialization by companies whose only motive is to make money for their investors in the shortest amount of time.
Ray Apy has given his word that there will be zero odor escaping this state of the art facility. Negative pressure and unloading in doors will be the magic cure for the smells that are so commonly associated with sewage sludge. Unfortunately, even its own board member describes his relief when leaving the facility he works in. Again, we are relying on a model, not experimental data.
7. Derogatory Tone
When speaking of their carbon fertilizer process, Ray Apy and Bryce Meeker chose tones that suggested care and inspiration, telling long stories about how they are working to save the world. Their demeanor quickly changed, however, when attempting to clarify information in the news or shared by nonprofit organizations, or when answering the public's questions. The Saratoga Biochar President and the CEO quickly dissolved into a belittling, snarky tone, at one point laughing that our resistance to the SBS project was beneficial to exposing their product to the market and consumers. Not only do they disregard our concerns, but also they actually believe they are educating us, like small children attending a lesson in school.
SBS clearly did not appreciate Hayleigh Colombo’s reports regarding Bryce Meeker’s and Lee Wulfekuhle’s involvement in previous lawsuits. SBS even went so low as to suggest that Ms. Colombo and the firm she works for, Lee Enterprises, have ulterior motives. Why would someone from Ohio care about what is happening in upstate NY? This theory, however, was quickly dispelled as one area resident began questioning where Bryce and Lee were from. Why were these two midwestern residents here, in our neighborhood? Why weren’t they building their plant in Nebraska or Ohio? Read the article here!
8. Pollution inundation and remediation
Hudson Falls and until recently Fort Edward have been designated a Potential Environmental Justice Zone (dark purple) and a Disadvantage Community. SBS’s project is less than a ½ a mile from Hudson falls. SBS’s facility would be sitting on the Hudson River, a PCB Sediment State Superfund Site (54603) and across the river from the GE superfund site where there is an effort being made to excavate all buildings and sediments contaminated with PCBs. SBS is down wind from a biosolids incinerator and has 18 other air polluting factories as neighbors, including Title V permitted Wheelabrator. Read the article here!
9. A NO SHOW is a YES VOTE
Although these meetings were exhausting, so many new discoveries were made. We finally got answers to our questions, allowing us to move forward with requesting data from the DEC, conduct wildlife studies, investigate Casella's involvement, and a plethora of other tidbits to follow up on. One last comment we feel is necessary to share, and brings attention to the mindset of not only SBS but also Moreau Town Planning Board is this; a no show, is a yes vote. This skewed sense of reality assumes that community members that are unable to come to meetings, didn’t get informed of the meetings, didn’t understand what the meetings were about, didn’t understand that they can be involved in the process, feel powerless to the industrialization of our communities due to decades of abuse, are all in favor of this project. Ray Apy made this message clear during conversations after the public meetings. A no show, is a yes vote. If you aren’t going into meetings, calling in virtually, signing petitions, or actively involved, SBS will assume you are on board. What better way for us to join together and collectively let our voices be heard. Not here, not now. Not after what we all deal with on a daily basis. We have had enough.
10. Diversity is strength
The most inspiring thing I learned from the Saratoga Biochar Meetings is that we live in a truly remarkable community. Diversity is strength. Like the squares of a quilt, diverse and beautiful in their own ways, members of our community are turning out in droves to lend their expertise to the cause and in doing so, creating an environment of love and inclusivity that will not only work to keep our region safe Saratoga Biochar, but also address any other threat to our health or the health of our environment.
My name is Shannon Gillis, I am an educator and a concern citizen driven to uncover and communicate actions of our representatives and planning boards that have the potential to affect our health and the health of the environment, especially the Hudson River Ecosystem.