DEC Aids Farms Through Waste Guidelines

Judy Drabicki

Farms play a critical role in the north country’s economy and many of our farmers are following in the footsteps of generations before them.

                Although science and technology are the underpinning of farming today, the agriculture industry also relies on trial and error, gut-instinct, and weather. According to local agriculture expert Jay Matteson, our cool climate is well suited for dairy, cold hardy grapes, soybeans, corn, wheat, alfalfa, grasses, and many other crops and livestock. While the north country has a wide variety of soils ranging from well-drained loams to poorly drained clays, our farmers excel at managing soil resources.

                The farming industry is guided by sustainability and efficiency. Understanding that well-balanced soil creates stronger crops and healthier livestock, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) works closely with local farmers to issue land application permits to spread non-recognizable food processing (NRFP) waste on their fields. This organic waste contains valuable nutrients – especially nitrogen and phosphorous – and land spreading delivers these nutrients directly to the soil. This is a beneficial alternative to purchasing expensive commercial fertilizers and not unlike the time-tested practice of spreading manure on a field. NRFP works well on any soil and is easily applied in the same manner as manure. In addition to the nutrient value, NRFP waste also furnishes organic matter that, when added to fine-textured soils like clays makes the soils looser and increases the amount of pore space available for root growth. Additionally, in coarser, sandy soils, this organic matter can improve the ability of the soils to retain water.

                There are a few farms in our area already spreading NRFP waste on their fields. These farms have collaborated with local dairy product manufacturers to acquire and transport NRFP waste. DEC provides strict oversight of the application of this waste under regulations designed to establish criteria based upon the potential environmental and human health risks involved and protect against nuisances and other possible ill effects of the land application process.

                At its Lafargeville plant, H.P. Hood produces cottage cheese, yogurt, and sour cream. Food production at H.P. Hood also creates waste. This waste is run through another process that prepares it for spreading on the fields as NRFP.

                 H.P. Hood has been a registered land application facility since 2003, when the registration requirements first went into effect. Since 2012, it has been applying an average of 800,000 to two million gallons of NRFP waste annually at BJ Farms, also in Lafargeville. BJ Farms is a 130-acre farm that grows field crops, such as hay. The soil in the fields is tested to make sure the nutrient loading rates are accurate for the crop. The amount of nutrient applied cannot exceed the needs of the crop. 

                Not only is it valuable to the soil, transferring organic waste from large manufacturers to fields means less waste is sent to our landfills, which benefits all of us. Keeping waste out of landfills is known as “diversion,” where waste is diverted to another use such as land spreading or recycling discarded items instead of disposing of them. Diversion is an important goal for communities and landfill operators. Landfilling is expensive and costs are passed on to communities by way of tipping fees to everyone who generates waste. Because we all generate waste, we all share the burden of paying for landfill operations. 

                Diversion is proactive solid waste management, and in the case of land spreading, a benefit to agriculture.

                Eligible land application facilities benefit both our shared environment and the economy when operated in compliance with regulations and basic criteria.

Pollution risk hinders potential asset

Patrons stop at a roadside stand at an abandoned gas station at East Main Street and Morris Tract Road in Chaumont. The town of Lyme and Jefferson County are trying to figure out what to do with the site. Photo by Amanda Morrison/ Watertown Daily Times

At Route 12E and Morris Tract Road, a gas station sits abandoned. It has been that way for more than a decade, accumulating unpaid property tax debt and assaulting the eyes of residents.

Now a plan to rehabilitate the property has emerged, a plan that Lyme Town Councilwoman Anne M. Harris presented to the Jefferson County Board of Legislators on Tuesday night.

Building on a small farmers market that has sprouted up on the site, the town would take over the property and convert it into a year-round community marketplace and small-business incubator.

There is just one problem: no one knows the extent of the contamination of the site.

The former gas station, which is owned by Leo Wilson, sits in a kind of limbo.

The county started to foreclose on the property but has since halted those proceedings, unwilling to take the risk that it may end up inheriting a very expensive cleanup bill.

Just to remove the underground fuel tanks at the site could cost tens of thousands of dollars, according to County Attorney David J. Paulsen.

And if one of the tanks has started leaking over the past 10 years, the cost of removing contaminated soil could soar into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Environmental testing on the site and three other delinquent properties may pave the way for redevelopment of the former gas station.

An ad hoc committee of county legislators, composed of Michael W. Behling, R-Adams, Robert D. Ferris, R-Watertown, and Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, has identified the four sites as “commercially viable” and is willing to foot the bill for in-depth testing of each site.

“If we’re happy with the results, we’ll keep the properties. If we’re unhappy with the results, we’ll leave them in the hands of the current owners,” Mr. Paulsen said.

The risk of assuming the cost of cleanup has kept potential investors at bay, according to county legislators.

By identifying the extent of whatever contamination may have occurred, legislators hope to attract business investment in the properties.

“We want to present potential buyers with this information and dispel the fear that they’re walking into a risky situation cost-wise because of the contamination,” Mr. Paulsen said.

Though testing was supposed to begin this summer, so far there has been no indication as to the progress of the study, according to Mr. Paulsen.

If the county were to undertake the cost of cleaning up the sites, it would want to recoup its investment by selling them to tax-paying businesses.

“We’re trying to get them back on the tax roll,” Mr. Ferris said after the board’s meeting Tuesday night.

Turning over the former gas station to the town, even for a nominal fee, would not satisfy that requirement because if the town owned the property, it would be tax-exempt.

But Mrs. Harris argues that the community marketplace would be good for the community and for the county by promoting local agricultural offerings and helping young entrepreneurs learn how to manage businesses.

And with little demonstrated business interest in the site since it closed as a gas station, she said, that argument has merit, especially since volunteers already have expressed interest in helping to clean up the site and the Future Business Leaders of Lyme Central School has come up with a sketch of how the marketplace would look.

After hashing out their positions Tuesday night, the two sides likely will have to wait on the results of the environmental study before fleshing out their plans any further.

-Daniel Flatley, Watertown Daily Times

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