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Get a biodigester that fits North Elba
August 18, 2017

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For much of U.S. history, refuse was discarded just about anywhere: fields, forests, pits, rivers, lakes and oceans. Then, for generations, trash was collected and dumped into landfills. People started recycling in the 1980s and '90s, lessening the landfill load somewhat. Composting some food waste became more common in the 2000s and this decade.

Now technology is getting to the point where we don't need to dump any food waste into landfills. Biodigesters can convert it into electricity. How trash is handled in America is likely to shift in the near future.

Food waste often makes up a third of all garbage, studies indicate. A year-round tourist town with dozens of restaurants, such as Lake Placid, could reasonably be expected to have at least that proportion.

Also, Lake Placid is in the Adirondack Park, where landfills were closed in the 1990s. Instead of dumps, garbage goes temporarily to transfer stations. From there, towns and counties here have to pay to truck it to landfills outside the Park and then pay tipping fees to get rid of it - the less we dump, the better for local taxpayers.

Therefore, it made sense for the town of North Elba - which includes Lake Placid, Ray Brook and part of Saranac Lake - to look into getting a biodigester of its own, as recommended by Lake Placid High School science teacher Tammy Morgan. It was about to happen this year, but now it looks like it won't.

After years of preparations and after securing 100 percent state grant funding, the company the town contracted with recently informed town board members that it would have to exceed the contract price by at least 20 percent, or $250,000. Town officials were also thrown off by other contract changes the company would make, such as importing a used, higher-end biodigester from Italy rather than building a new one here. Town board members say the company president warned that maintenance costs would be higher than expected and basically talked them out of it. The deal is off.

Councilmen Bob Miller and Derek Doty, who oversaw this project for the town board, say they remain committed to getting a biodigester for North Elba - just not "this project with this company at this time," Miller said.

We appreciate their caution, given the warning signs. Nevertheless, that leaves the town still spending a lot of money to truck garbage to faraway dumps. To lighten that trash load by a third, and to generate electricity from it as well, is worth pursuing. North Elba, more than any other town in the region, is well positioned to take the lead in developing the garbage disposal mode of the future. Therefore, we hope these town board members act on their commitment and quickly move to pursue a biodigester that is a better fit for the town.

Of course, the numbers have to check out. Between the town's fiscal discipline and Tammy Morgan's assistance, we hope North Elba has to right team to make this work.

Responsible people are conscious of where their waste goes and conscientious about its impact on other beings, human and otherwise.

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