The Town of Amherst has stopped sending sewage sludge to the Quasar Energy Group’s controversial digestion plant in Wheatfield.
Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said that the issue of whether the plant’s byproducts are safe to be spread on farm fields as fertilizer, which has roiled several Niagara County towns, played a role in the town’s decision.
Also, Pendleton Town Attorney Claude A. Joerg said a proposed law setting up a permit process for the use of the byproduct, which the company calls “equate,” is being revised substantially, in line with public comments at a May 1 hearing.
Supervisor James A. Riester said Pendleton’s new law, which is to be the subject of another public hearing July 14, may ban the spreading of equate within 2,000 feet of a home, school or food processor.
He said it is possible that figure may be altered before July, as the town analyzes whether its law will survive a potential court challenge from Quasar.
Company spokesman Nathan C. Carr warned at a public hearing on an equate ban in Wheatfield Monday that litigation was possible on that town’s proposed ban on further use or storage of the nitrogen-rich byproduct.
Quasar’s anaerobic digester on Liberty Drive in Wheatfield opened in November. It uses a 25-day process in which microbes break down food waste and sludge from sewage treatment plants into methane gas. The company’s plans call for using that gas to generate electricity or compressed natural gas.
The byproduct left behind has been pitched as an excellent farm fertilizer, but opponents say it contains human waste and thus may contain pathogens or anything else unpleasant or hazardous.
Carr said at the Wheatfield meeting that the same is true of animal manure, used as a farm fertilizer for thousands of years.
Wheatfield’s proposed law may come up for a vote as soon as June 2. It would allow Quasar and Milleville Brothers farm, which has an equate permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, to continue their operations without expanding them.
However, Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said Milleville Brothers has promised him it won’t use equate, and Riester said the same thing at a May 1 meeting. Milleville Brothers has a permit to use equate on a field that borders the playground at Fricano Elementary School.
Joerg said the revised version of the Pendleton permit law will include the same rules the DEC uses for equate permits, if not tougher ones.
DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes said the state requires that equate not be injected into the soil if the water table is less than 24 inches below the surface. Also, a 500-foot buffer zone is required between equate and homes, businesses or “public contact areas.” And, the material may not be used on hills with slopes of more than 15 percent.
Joerg said, “Not only will the DEC be able to monitor this, but so will the town’s code enforcement officer. You’ll have double protection.”
Wheatfield’s law doesn’t mention buffers because it’s a ban, except for current activities. Joerg thinks such a law will fail a court challenge.