Town of Marilla officials vowed Thursday night to fight a farmer’s plans to store fertilizer whose components include food byproducts and treated human waste, now that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has approved the farmer’s application for a solid-waste permit.
Though the land is zoned agricultural, storage of the material that opponents call “toxic sewage sludge” would be considered a commercial operation, said Supervisor Earl A. Gingerich Jr., who is also a farmer.
“The sludge storage is against our town zoning code,” he told an overflow crowd at the Town Board meeting. “It is different if the storage is being used 100 percent for spreading by the farmer, but it is a commercial use.”
Public outcry first sounded last summer when farmer Stanley E. Travis inquired about leasing his million-gallon concrete tank to Quasar Energy Group, an Ohio-based company that produces what it calls “equate” at anaerobic digestion plants in West Seneca and Wheatfield. Travis has operated a 27-acre farm on Eastwood Road for more than three decades.
In response, bright red signs decrying “sewer sludge” have popped up in Marilla, a town of about 5,700 residents. “Not in our town,” the signs say, above a black skull and crossbones.
Gingerich told the crowd that the town would seek an injunction in State Supreme Court if Travis and Quasar proceed with plans to store equate, which is also called “digestate” and “biosolids” by regulatory agencies. He said he has also notified the state Department of Agriculture and Markets that the plan appears to run afoul of town zoning regulations.
“The board has been elected to defend town codes and laws,” Gingerich said. The crowd cheered when he said, “It doesn’t mean Quasar won’t test us. Let ’em try!”
Quasar would have to build a loading platform and earthen berm around the storage tank, according to paperwork provided by the DEC. Travis would also have to seek a variance from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, of which he is a member. Travis would have to recuse himself from any discussions on the matter, Gingerich said.
Board members, when asked Thursday, also said they are against storage of equate if it is a danger to life, the environment or animals. There is concern by soil experts over the levels of heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and pathogens in the treated municipal sludge that goes into equate.
There are also 18 applications pending before the DEC to spread equate on farmland in the towns of Marilla, Elma and Bennington. Neighbors to the Travis farm have also expressed concern about the tank leaking into the watershed.
“This product will reduce the fertilizer costs, won’t contaminate the soil and is a renewable energy product,” Travis said at a previous board meeting. “I am as close to being an organic farmer as I can be. I use no pesticides. And no way am I going to contaminate any fields.”
The company defends the safety of equate, which is regulated by state and federal environmental agencies.
“We can’t speak for those who misunderstand our processes and products,” said Quasar spokeswoman Caroline Henry, when asked to identify the most challenging public misconception about equate.
“We can say that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. (Environmental Protection Agency) have analyzed and reviewed our operations and our products and agree that they provide a safe and environmentally beneficial nutrient source,” Henry said.
The Town Board enacted a six-month moratorium in November on solid waste and recycling and the disposal of sewage and sewage sludge. It set a public hearing for April 10 to consider a six-month extension.