The state Department of Environmental Conservation hosted a meeting with officials from several Niagara County towns this week to try to convince them that the state’s regulations on the use of biosolids are adequate and the product itself is safe.
The supervisors of Wheatfield and Pendleton said Friday that they still intend to move forward with restrictive laws regarding the application of such materials to farm fields.
Pendleton Supervisor James A. Riester called Thursday’s meeting, hosted by DEC Regional Director Abby Snyder in the agency’s Buffalo office, “an effort to convince us that it’s a great product, the greatest thing since sliced bread, a green product, and everybody who loves green things should love it. And it’s just not the case.”
DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes said the meeting was called “to share technical information and explain the long history of biosolids and land application in New York and the U.S.”
“As far as they’re concerned, DEC has done its homework,” Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said.
The issue stems from the Quasar Energy Group’s anaerobic digester on Liberty Drive in Wheatfield, which uses microbes to break down food waste and sewage sludge into methane gas. The gas can be used to generate electricity or produce compressed natural gas.
The 25-day process leaves a byproduct, which the company calls “equate.” It’s rich in nitrogen and makes an excellent fertilizer, Quasar says. The company made arrangements with Milleville Brothers Farm, which obtained a DEC equate application permit in 2012, to send the material for use on several of its fields.
But residents are up in arms because sewage sludge is a major ingredient in the digester’s raw material, and that means human waste is being applied to fields, they say.
Wheatfield, whose elected officials have said Quasar never disclosed the need for disposal of large quantities of equate when it sought a permit for the plant, has instituted a moratorium on further use and storage of the material.
In Erie County, West Seneca, which is home to another Quasar digester, has imposed a moratorium on new facilities of that type. Marilla, where there is controversy over a farmer’s plan to use and store equate, has a moratorium on sludge storage.
Wheatfield and Pendleton both are working on restrictive laws. Wheatfield residents have demanded an absolute ban, with some calling for it to be retroactive so Quasar can be forced to shut down.
The Wheatfield law doesn’t do that, and it allows the continued use of the material by those who already have permits. But a ban on new uses is expected to be voted upon at the June 23 Town Board meeting.
Cliffe said Wheatfield will discuss the issue at a board meeting Monday, but there won’t be action.
Wheatfield Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole said the town’s engineering firm is completing the long version of the state environmental assessment form to go with the law, and that form isn’t done yet.
Cliffe said the law is being tweaked to avoid catching gardeners who buy bagged compost that might contain human waste remnants from being caught in its net.
“What we’re doing, we have to be careful about overdoing,” Cliffe said.
“We don’t want to throw granny in the hoosegow because she bought a couple of bags of fertilizer for her garden.”
But as for the main body of the law, Cliffe said, “There’s no question there’s room for challenge. If we have a good reason for it, and we think we do, we’re ready for that challenge.”
Pendleton is planning a law setting up a restrictive permitting process for use of biosolids. It also would include a buffer zone of 2,000 feet between equate use and a neighboring property, Town Attorney Claude A. Joerg said.
Riester said officials of the state Department of Agriculture and markets, who took part in Thursday’s meeting by phone, said a complete ban would be “overly restrictive for an agricultural practice, and they would probably try to overturn it, which is what we’ve been told all along.”
But he said biosolids are “not very palatable for our residents.”
Cliffe said there was no mention at the meeting of the DEC revoking the equate permits it has already issued in Niagara County, a request made last month by the county’s State Legislature delegation.