Dryden, N.Y. — An environmental watchdog group for Cayuga Lake says it is concerned about a farm’s plan to build a 3.2-million gallon manure pit near the banks of Fall Creek.
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The Cayuga Lake Watershed Network is appealing to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to slow the development. Several residents of the area have also spoken out against the proposed pit.
The plan, however, is being certified by the New York State Tompkins County Soil and Water Conservation. And representatives of Beck Farms, which is behind the project, say they have gone above-and-beyond to ensure its safety — and that the new pit will reduce truck traffic, save diesel fuel, and actually improve the environment.
“The benefits are to the community, farm and the environment by operating in a more sustainable manner,” says Russ Beck, managing member of Beck Farms.
Here’s what we’ve learned:
What is the project?
Beck Farms wants to put a manure pit in the town of Dryden. Beck Farms is an industrial Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, which are called CAFO’s.
The manure pit lagoon will go on lands above Dutcher Road and North Road — with about 1.5 miles of underground manure transfer lines to Beck Farms’ central operations at Red Mill Road — according to a letter from concerned residents.
Who is concerned, and why?
The Cayuga Lake Watershed Network is concerned that the development could create pollution in nearby Fall Creek, and thereby contaminate Cayuga Lake, according to Dr. Hilary Lambert, executive director of the watchdog group.
“The concerned public deserves to know more about this project, why it is proposed to be sited in this location instead of in a less-sensitive area, and if all alternatives were fully considered,” Lambert says in an email to the DEC.
Here’s the key part of Lambert’s letter:
“Fall Creek is a major economic and recreational resource. Much work and money have been put into cleaning up polluters and monitoring this creek for spills and any form of water quality degradation.
“These are some of the reasons why siting a major manure pit/lagoon and pipeline system adjacent to and underneath the creek, in documented wetlands, appears inadvisable.”
A group of residents is also worried about the project. The Cortland Standard recently reported that a handful of area residents assailed the project with a “laundry list” of objections at a recent Dryden Conservation Board meeting on Tuesday.
“We are deeply concerned about the potential for substantial negative community and environmental impacts from this project,” residents Heather Gowe and Timothy Gowe wrote in a letter to the Town of Dryden.
Among their concerns, according to their letter:
1) Increased trucking traffic of the manure and associated noise and odor;
2) Potential well water contamination;
3) Wetlands contamination from the proposed manure pit;
4) Breaks in underground transfer lines with the potential for spills into the wetlands and Fall Creek stream bed.
What are they doing about it?
Lambert, of the watershed network, has written a letter to the New York State Department of Environmental conversation asking it to put the brakes on the manure pit.
One of Lambert’s principal requests in the letter is that the public be briefed and allowed to learn more about the project before it moves forward.
“Concerns of numerous near residents to this proposed project also deserve scrutiny and response. Many have just heard about this project and need to know more about possible impacts to the quiet enjoyment of their property,” Lambert says in her letter.
What does the farm say?
In a statement to the Ithaca Voice, Russ Beck, managing member of Beck Farms, defended the project.
Here’s Beck’s statement in full:
“No one likes change, especially in their backyard. The reality is that it’s in my backyard also. Beck Farms is going above and beyond the minimum engineering requirements by incorporating concrete and completely lining the structure with a commercial grade impervious liner. All construction is overseen by certified engineer and Tompkins County Soil and Water District.
This facility will allow pumping of manure two times per year from our milking barn to the remote storage. From the storage, the vast majority of manure will be pumped and incorporated directly into the soil. As a result of this system, we estimate saving 8000 gallons of diesel fuel per year. We also calculate reducing truck traffic on the road by approximately 900 loads per year. The benefits are to the community, farm and the environment by operating in a more sustainable manner, reducing heavy traffic on local roads, reducing odor and getting crops planted more timely.”
So, what is the New York State Tompkins County Soil and Water Conservation?
Made up of five county residents, the Tompkins Soil and Water Conservation District
is a voluntary agency of local citizens that (Correction: The district is comprised of paid employees, not volunteers) helps local governments make decisions about soil and water management.
“We provide oversight to make sure the grant funds are utilized to install the Conservation Best Management Practice systems planned according to engineering specifications, permit requirements and in accordance with the farms comprehensive nutrient management plan and the Tompkins County Agricultural Environmental Management Program recommendations,” Jon Negley, of the district, said in a statement to the Ithaca Voice.
“All of these specifications, requirements, plans and recommendations are in place to protect the residents of Freeville, Tompkins County and New York State while making the farm viable to provide sustainable agriculture throughout the community.”
How does watchdog group respond to farm’s statements?
We asked Lambert to respond to the statement from Beck Farms.
Here’s what she wrote back:
“Beck Farms are working fully within the law as it applies to them. They have very stringent state and federal regulations to follow, and I have heard from more than one person that Beck Farms does a good job. However, the private property of neighbors and the water quality for downstream users must also be protected.
“You will see in the comments I submitted that the neighbors to this project, and all of us downstream, deserve at least a public information session where questions can be answered. As it is, the public has only recently found out about this project, and is being barraged with a bewildering array of maps, engineering diagrams and technical specs.”
Are other residents concerned?
Yes. Among residents’ other primary concerns: 1) A lack of public notice about the project; 2) The effect it would have on Fall Creek; 3) And the typical effects of CAFO’s on the environmental health of a region.
“My first concern is that this industrial feeding lot is expanding and the known consequences of CAFO operations are not being considered with regard to neighbors’ quality of life, water safety and quality and future viability,” writes Joanne Cipolla-Dennis, a resident of the area, in a long letter to town officials.
What’s the town’s response?
According to The Cortland Standard, town officials say they have no authority to extend the public comment over the proposed manure pit.
Can I read the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network’s full statement?
Yep. Read Lambert’s letter in full here: