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Genesee Biogas

'Don't do that to us.' Town resident wary of odor from proposed Ag Park waste digester

By Mike Pettinella

A Town of Batavia resident and business owner reiterated his objections Tuesday night to a proposed Genesee Biogas plant earmarked for the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park but, once again, project developers attempted to alleviate his concerns over the smell of its emissions.

Speaking at the Batavia Town Planning Board meeting at the Town Hall on West Main Street Road, Eric Biscaro questioned Lauren Toretta, president of CH4 Biogas, and Sara Gilbert of Pinewood Engineering, about the extent of the odor from the facility, which is set to be constructed on Ag Park Drive, not far away from Ellicott Street Road.

“If you go by O-AT-KA (Milk Products Cooperative) on lots of given days, the odor there is enough to … it’s bad,” Biscaro said. “So, it’s seems that it would be more intense at your place if you’re going to bring it over from O-AT-KA and (HP) Hood and Upstate (Niagara Cooperative). If you’re going to be worse than O-AT-KA, then I’m going to tell you that I’m going 100 percent against this.”

Biscaro mentioned his neighbors on Ellicott Street Road and also those on Shepard Road when he added, “We really don’t want you to do that to us.”

The scene mirrored what played out six months ago when Biscaro, as a member of the Genesee County Planning Board, voiced his opposition to the digester based on the potential odor.

Last night, as was the case in May, Gilbert and Toretta, responded by stating that measures are in place to mitigate the smell as the digester handles sanitary waste primarily from the three Ag Park enterprises.

Gilbert said the digester storage tanks feature a process that is “entirely enclosed,” unlike the system at O-AT-KA that has open air containers where “odors can get into the air and get wind dispersed.”

“It is an enclosed process, it has odor filtration, and we also have an odor mitigation plan that we’ve started to prepare if there’s a breakdown in the process; a way to identify it and rectify it,” she said.

Toretta called the digester, which was first proposed about nine years ago, a “next level” project and a “landmark facility” that comes with numerous technological advances.

Biscaro then brought up the placement of the facility and wondered why it couldn’t be shifted further north on Ag Park Drive, closer to HP Hood and Upstate and farther away from people’s homes.

“This is the parcel that the Ag Park asked us to be on,” Toretta replied, noting that Hood is planning an expansion and has use for more of its property. “We also oriented the site as far from the road as possible, up against the tree line …”

Prior to Biscaro’s comments, Gilbert updated planners on the project, emphasizing that waste from the food processing plants will be shipped to lagoons approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and not to the City of Batavia wastewater treatment plant.

She said the waste is deemed by the DEC as “good material for fertilizer.”

Gilbert addressed other key points such as making sure the project aligns with federal requirements concerning environmental impact, stormwater treatment, water usage, truck traffic and wildlife protection.

She noted that county planners have recommended approval of a height variance for the storage tanks, and that the next step is to return to the Town Planning Board to take on the State Environmental Quality Review process.

Biogas plant on the drawing board for ag park since 2014 reemerges in planning process

By Howard B. Owens
digester tank
Design rendering from area variance application submitted by Genesee BIogas for a tall digester tank for a proposed plant in the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park in the Town of Batavia.

A long-discussed plan to build a biogas plant in the Genesee Valley Agri-business Park in the Town of Batavia is again moving forward with the recommended approval on Thursday of a height variance for a storage tank on the property.

CH4 Biogas of Covington, operating the business name Genesee Biogas for the project,  first proposed the plant in 2014

Sara Gilbert, of Pinewood Engineering, asked the board to Genesee County Planning Board on Thursday to recommend approval for the company to build a digester storage tank taller than allowed by zoning code.  The biogas plant seeks approval for an 83.5-foot tall digester tank.

Gilbert noted that the board previously recommended approval of the variance for a plant location that was going to be just outside the ag park but the Town of Batavia board prefers the company build the plant inside the park so the application for the variance needed to be resubmitted for the new location in the park.

She also noted that HP Hood was granted a variance for a much taller tank, and Oatka Milk has tanks with heights that do not conform to the zoning code so the Genesee Biogas proposal is consistent with existing construction in the area.

The board approved the recommendation with one no-vote, from Eric Biscaro, who expressed concern about potential odor from the plant.

eric biscaro 2023 planning board
Eric Biscaro
Photo by Howard Owens.

"I don't care what the height of the tank is, personally," Biscaro said. "I mean, I'm right next to this thing, and I would just as soon get back into that park further because I work at Armor (Building Supply) right down the road from Oatka and Let me tell you, it's pretty ripe there sometimes. And I'm close to this plant, living near there then I am at work. I'm under the impression that this plant is going to smell worse than Oatka."

No, Gilbert said, everything at the plant is enclosed, and the air coming out of the plant is filtered.

"It is different than maybe a more traditional digester," Gilbert said. "It actually has a negative pressure system that can pull the air out and put it through a biofilter system that filters the air. So it does not have a strong smell. And it doesn't have any animal waste at all associated with it. It's only food-grade waste from the plants in the park."

Genesee County Planning Director also informed the board that the only matter on the agenda for Thursday was the high variance. Genesee Biogas will present at a later date a site plan review, where issues such as odor can be considered.

In 2014, at a previous public meeting, Paul Toretta, CEO of CH4 Biogas, explained how the plant works: "We make green power out of organic waste. Once the digester does its thing, it captures methane and powers an engine that makes green power and puts it on the grid. The engine produces heat that can be used to heat Quaker Muller and Alpina (the plants in the park at the time), helping them cut their heating bill."

Quaker Muller's plant is now owned and operated by HP Hood, and Alpina is owned and operated by the Upstate Milk Cooperative.


Genesee County Planning Department finds fault with Stafford solar project proposal

By Mike Pettinella

Should the Genesee County Planning Board on Thursday night follow the lead of the Genesee County Planning Department staff, proposals to install two 5-megawatt, ground-mounted solar systems in the Town of Stafford will be sent back to the drawing board.

The planning department staff is recommending disapproval of the referral submitted by the Stafford Town Board, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals in connection with a site plan to construct the solar farms on property owned by Robert and Michelle Wood of 8244 Batavia Stafford Townline Road.

At their meeting tomorrow night (7 o’clock via Zoom videoconferencing), planners will consider a special use permit and area variances for a 31.08-acre and a 28.32-acre, side-by-side system.

The problem with the plan, according to information provided by Planning Director Felipe Oltramari, is that the setback variances requested “grossly exceed the requirements of the Town of Stafford’s Zoning Law.”

The law stipulates a 200-foot minimum for setbacks to nonresidential property lines; the proposal asks for 100 feet to the east, north and south, and zero feet to the west, bordering the adjacent solar project. The law also stipulates a 1,000-foot minimum to residential property lines; the proposal seeks a 75-foot setback.

A third variance for fence height from the maximum 6 feet to 7 feet also is being requested.

Oltramari said that granting of such large variances by the Stafford ZBA may undermine the local law adopted by the town board and set a precedent for future applications.

“In addition, the application requests a variance from the Real Property Value Protection clause of the law,” he said. “Since this is not a use or dimensional requirement, it is questionable as to whether the ZBA can grant such a waiver.”

He is suggesting the applicants (the Woods and BW Solar of Ontario, Canada) petition the town board to amend its solar law instead of seeking variances from the ZBA “especially given that Stafford's solar regulations differ significantly from other towns in Genesee County.”

Besides special use permit requests by Eric Biscaro for a senior housing development in the Town of Le Roy and Benderson Development LLC for two new restaurants/retail buildings that were previously reported on The Batavian, other referrals of note for tomorrow night’s meeting are as follows:

-- A downtown site plan review to make exterior changes to the Alberty Drugs mixed-use building at 78-81 Main St., Batavia. The proposal, submitted by project manager David Ciurzynski, calls for installing storefront windows on the south façade to allow for more natural light into the space, and the elimination of an exterior door and an existing wall sign.


-- Area variances to construct two 83.5-foot tanks and four 41-foot tanks for the Genesee Biogas LLC project at 4800 West Ag Park Drive in the Town of Batavia (illustration is above). The company needs the variances as the height requirement in the Industrial Park District is a maximum of 40 feet. Oltramari said planners will consider the height request at this time, with a site plan review to come.

-- A site plan review to construct a 50,000-square-foot (100 by 500) warehouse building at Apple Tree Acres LLC in the Town of Bergen.  Half of the building is earmarked for a new industrial manufacturing tenant and half will be used for additional storage by the existing tenant – Hank Parker Rental.

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