MOREAU, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On a Thursday afternoon, John Donohue embarked from his Cedar Lane home to knock on the doors of his neighbors. Clipboard in hand, he asked fellow residents for their signatures, to give him and others a chance at starting a new chapter for Moreau.
Donohue, a member of the Moreau Town Board himself, is one of the founding members of the Moreau United party, which aims to challenge controversial issues in the town, including the planned construction of the Saratoga Biochar plant at the local industrial park. Donohue’s two main fellows on the party line are Jessie Fish and Pat Killian, who share the viewpoint that things in Moreau need to change.
“Pat and Jessie both said to me, ‘We’re Republicans,’ and I said, ‘I’m a Democrat – but we’re not politicians,'” said Donohue. “We came together and decided we should run as our own, independent party – and the response has been terrific.”
The Saratoga Biochar plant, a fertilizer production business that has drawn objection from many Moreau residents, is one of several talking points on the Moreau United docket. Donohue says he’s heard from residents who feel that the current town board shuts out public comment, putting comment periods late on a meeting schedule that can go for two hours or more. The town is also a rarity in its area for lacking a solar law, and has residents who want more focus on recreation.
“We want to create a town board where people feel comfortable coming in and voicing concerns. That’s not happening right now,” Donohue said.
Moreau Town Supervisor Todd Kusnierz has a differing view of Moreau’s last few years. He declined to comment on Moreau United until the party gathers enough signatures to be recognized on the ballot. The issues on which they’re campaigning are another story.
“It’s a false narrative,” Kusnierz said, in response specifically to complaints about public comment at meetings. “Every town agenda, I have an item that is privilege of the floor. Anyone is welcome to come up and speak for as much as 3 minutes. Quite honestly, I have an open-door policy. You can access me at my office at the Town Hall, or at the county. I don’t understand why anybody would have difficulty reaching out.”
The words “false narrative” also come up in relation to the 2018 project to extend Moreau’s sewer line along Route 9, in the direction of Northway Exit 17. The $16 million project was created to make parts of Moreau more enticing to businesses and developers.
Kusnierz, in his sixth year as supervisor, says that the town has kept all of its promises related to the sewer project. A new Hoffman’s Car Wash and AllTown Fresh Market are being constructed, joining recent businesses like Saratoga Headwaters, Hudson Headwaters’ Moreau Health Center, and a recently constructed Stewart’s Shops location. The supervisor says those additions help a town tax rate that, overall, has gone down by 9% in the time he has spent in office.
Donohue says that the 87 people who owned commercial property in the affected area prior to the sewer project are still waiting for their end of the deal. They voted in favor of the project, but did so expecting more than what they’ve gotten.
“When they voted on it, they were promised a warehouse; they were promised office complexes,” Donohue said. “These 87 people were told they wouldn’t have to pay much (out of their taxes) for this sewer, because there’s all this growth coming in. The supervisor said all this stuff is coming in, and it never came.”
Moreau United needs 500 signatures in order for Donohue, Fish and Killian to appear on the ballot. Donohue is running to keep his town board seat, while Killian looks to take another open seat, and Fish hopes to defeat Kusnier and become the next town supervisor. Donohue got his first 30 signatures on Thursday morning, and a few more as he started work reaching those coming back from work in the evening. He’s gotten a positive response from his neighbors, and hopes to see it take the party all the way.
More than one of the properties Donohue stopped at bore a sign reading “Stop Biochar,” or “Not Moreau” – a pair of phrases not unlike a tune the town can’t get out of its head. For the last year, residents have vocally opposed the Saratoga Biochar plant on grounds ranging from environmental issues to traffic concerns (the plant would see large trucks full of sewage waste pass through down daily).
“The applicant followed the required DEC hearings, and was approved,” said Kusnierz – who is not part of the Moreau Planning Board, which approved the plant for introduction into Moreau. “Anyone who has a problem with the town planning board’s decision has a right to file a complaint. If anybody is out there saying they’re running for Town Board because they’re gunning for Biochar, they’re fraudulently running the public a false bill of goods.”
In January, the Glens Falls Post-Star newspaper published an investigation showing that Kusnierz had accepted thousands of dollars in political donations from individuals with ties to Saratoga Biochar. Kusnierz called this, too, part of a “false narrative,” and denied accepting any money from anyone with direct ties to the company.
“People have gone to the town and said they feel like they can’t go in there,” said Donohue. “They say it, and I’ve seen it. I’ve witnessed it. That’s what we want to change.”