PORT BYRON — Construction has resumed on the controversial manure lagoon in Mentz and residents are continuing to make it clear that they aren’t happy about the project.

Construction on the manure lagoon, being built by CH4 Generate Cayuga on land leased from Hourigan Farms, resumed last week the Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed in an email to The Citizen on Thursday. The lagoon will be used to store digestate produced by the Cayuga Regional Digester, run by CH4, and Hourigan farms will inject the digestate as manure on the 400 acres of land the lagoon is situated on. 

A spokesperson stated that the DEC recently received new information from CH4 and Hourigan Farms with respect to ownership of the project. Hourigan Farms will now own, operate, maintain and be responsible for the environmental compliance of the lagoon, the DEC explained, and in light of that change the DEC determined the project meets CAFO standards for construction and operation of a storage lagoon. 

Tuesday night, at the Port Byron Central School's auditorium, more than 50 people attended an informational meeting with a panel of various representatives and officials — including the DEC, Hourigan Farms, Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District, CH4 and the state's Department of Agriculture and Markets — that spanned more than two hours. Various members of the panel took turns presenting before fielding residents' questions. 

Reggie Parker, the regional engineer for DEC Region 7, which includes Cayuga County, explained that Hourigan Farms had coverage for the project under a general CAFO permit issued last July. Initially, the DEC believed that Hourigan Farms was installing the lagoon with their CAFO permit, Parker explained, and it wasn’t until further communication with Hourigan and CH4 that DEC found that Hourigan Farms didn’t own, and wasn't legally responsible for, the lagoon.

This led the DEC to issue a notice of violation to CH4, which then stopped work voluntarily in response. Parker explained that the DEC did not issue a do not work order, so the halting of the work was voluntary on CH4’s behalf. 

Since then, Parker explained, CH4 and Hourigan Farms have changed their agreement and now that Hourigan has accepted the responsibility to own and operate the lagoon, the project can again be under the farm's CAFO. 

Additional DEC officials spoke to the construction of the lagoon and confirmed that it will be built with a liner and has plenty of capacity included in the design to account for large storms so there should never be either infiltration or overflow from the lagoon into the land. 

AJ Wormuth, the farm's manager who introduced himself as "the alleged bad guy" at the meeting, explained that he hopes to offer a new perspective to residents. He explained that, as a member of the community he is just as concerned about the environmental fears that residents have — especially since the farm couldn't survive if it didn't care for the land.

In response to a question about what would happen if there ever were to be an issue with the lagoon, DEC Regional Director Matthew Marko explained that the DEC would investigate and would take actions against the farm if there were issues that stemmed from a violation of the CAFO permit. 

“There is a lot of assumption in these questions that it’s going to leak and there is going to be contamination,” Wormuth said. “In the event that something did happen — in the extremely rare event that the lagoon would leak — we would be responsible … bottom line.”

He said even in the cases that residents' wells become contaminated, if it can be proven that the farm caused the contamination, the farm will take the responsibility to fix it. 

Wormuth also confirmed, in response to a question, that as of right now Hourigan Farms will be the only farm taking the digestate out of the lagoon to spread on their land, "but we never say never," he added.

Although the panel spent time presenting and answering questions residents had sent to the town board ahead of time, many still were not satisfied. 

“No matter what you say here tonight … it’s a manure lagoon,” said Bonnie Warrick, who lives 1/4 mile from the lagoon, "and I'm not happy about it."

She explained that she sat and listened to all the rules, and heard them talk about how great the project is and how it maybe won't affect the roads, their wells, their air quality or home assessments, but she still doesn't like it.

"We’ve had this pushed right down our throats, and we don’t like it ... I am ticked,” as she finished speaking the audience erupted in loud cheers.  

Although the official meeting had ended, as of 9:15 p.m. Tuesday night, residents were still interacting with the panel and asking individual questions.

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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.