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SENNETT — During the first Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District board meeting since the state Department of Environmental Conservation cited the Cayuga Regional Digester in March, the digester plant manager gave an update of the operation.

"The facility is running well," said Plant Manager John Stapleton Wednesday. "We've responded to (DEC's) letter ... and we'll wait to hear back from them."

The digester, located in Sennett, is operated by CH4 Generate Cayuga, a California-based investment firm that focuses on renewable energy projects. CH4 operates the digester facility through a long-term, lease-to-own agreement with Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The DEC citation called for numerous digester practices discovered in a surprise investigation to stop, including accepting wastes the facility was not authorized to accept and certain waste streams — such as source-separated organics from New York City — until more reviews and approvals could be obtained.

Stapleton said the facility averages five trips a day to the storage lagoon in Mentz with the effluent produced by the digester. It's been taking more than one delivery route and changed the schedule to avoid school bus hours in response to complaints, he added. Currently, however, he said the facility's three routes have been reduced to two due to either a resident or the town putting up barriers on a corner that make it impossible for a tractor trailer to make the turn.

Carl Martel with the Cayuga County Highway Department said he recently drove Maiden Lane Road in Mentz, where the manure lagoon is located, and said the road isn't in great shape. While not breaking up, he said it is moving and will need attention. He said it's hard to tell if the impact of the digester deliveries is causing it but it certainly doesn't help.

The SWCD meeting, which ended with an executive session to negotiate contracts, was followed by a tour of the digester facility.

After the meeting, SWCD Executive Director Doug Kierst said he hasn't had the time to look through the entirety of the DEC's notice of violation issued over the digester as it included nearly 60 pages of documentation. Currently, however, he said everything is business as usual in terms of the relationship between SWCD and the digester.

"I think it'll be good for people to see what's going on," Kierst said of the board embarking on a tour of the site.

While there may be disgruntled employees or perhaps there were miscommunications, Kierst said he sees something different. The same day the notice of violation was issued, he said he and Ray Lockwood, the chairman of the district board of directors, went down to the digester site unannounced.

"We didn't see any issues," he said. He said there are many interesting things, such as Coke and Monster Energy drinks, being processed and not entering the landfill.

Stapleton said feedstock for the digester includes things like manure, yogurt and liquids. After gas is produced in the digester, it goes through biological scrubbers and then a system that strips the moisture from and filters the gas before sending it through a pressurized line to the engines that generate energy. Effluent, the end product made from the digester's process, is then transported to the newly built 10-million-gallon manure lagoon in Mentz.

One of the more recent additions to the digester facility include a new building that houses organic wastes for the digester and a Tiger machine that takes all the cardboard or plastic packaging and separates from the organic product. Kierst mentioned on the tour that the facility has invested millions into new buildings and equipment and has created full-time jobs.

"This is an investment into the county," Kierst said.

The same warehouse that is home to the Tiger machine is filled with wastes including dog treats, Wegmans produce, pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, beer, Byrne Dairy crates, boxes of ravioli and more.

Throughout the tour, board members commented on the cleanliness of the facility and expressed gratitude that less waste would be entering landfills due to the operation.

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Staff writer Megan Ehrhart can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or megan.ehrhart@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @MeganEhrhart.

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