WHEATFIELD – The Town Board voted Monday to spend up to $10,000 on a consulting firm to help it revise the town’s environmental laws.
Matrix Environmental Technologies, a statewide firm with an Orchard Park office, will work on the revision that will follow if the board approves a six-month moratorium on the disposal or storage of sewage sludge and derivative products in the town.
The target of that move is Quasar Energy Group, whose anaerobic digester on Liberty Drive, which opened in November, turns food waste and sludge from sewage treatment plants into methane gas, used to produce electricity or compressed natural gas.
The byproduct of the process is a liquid called “equate,” which Quasar touts as a highly effective farm fertilizer. Ten agricultural properties in Niagara County have state licenses to use equate on their fields, although last week, State Sen. George D. Maziarz and Assemblyman John D. Ceretto called on the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to revoke those licenses.
Opponents say equate is dangerous because it’s derived from human sewage, which could contain a wide range of pathogens. Quasar officials argued at a public meeting last week that equate is better and safer than animal manure or chemical fertilizers.
The company is seeking town permission to build a 5 million-gallon storage tank for equate behind the digester, after opposition in several towns squelched its preferred plan of digging lagoons on farms to store the byproduct before it is distributed to farmers.
The Wheatfield Planning Board has put the tank request on hold.
Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe, pointing to the heavy public opposition to Quasar, defended the Matrix hiring by saying, “We’re not experts. Our experts are the DEC. The problem is, these people don’t trust the DEC. We work for them. [The Matrix contract] will give us somebody not paid by Quasar or the DEC.”
Resident Samuel Cirrito said he wants to know why the storage tank needs to be so big. “I think they’re going to truck that stuff in from someplace else and use our town for a dump,” he said.
Cliffe said 5 million gallons is about half a year’s production of equate.
In other matters Monday, the board approved placing a town veterans monument in Fairmount Park, settling a topic discussed for the past four years. However, the committee working on the project still must raise the funds to pay for it, and Cliffe said they don’t have a cost estimate yet.
The rendering the board received show a paved five-pointed star within a circle, with a flagpole in the center and lights on the perimeter.
Town Hall also was considered as a possible site.
Also Monday, the board approved a rezoning of the Wheatfield Lakes Patio Homes Subdivision, also known as “the Villas,” to allow larger lot sizes for 53 homeowners.
They will now be able to have decks and fences, said Charles W. Malcomb, attorney for the developer, Ryan Homes.
The 32-acre subdivision’s site plan was altered from 79 lots to 70, by reducing a yet-to-be-buit cul-de-sac from 13 lots to four. The occupied lots are being enlarged through grants of what was until now common green space. Homeowners had complained that lots were smaller than they had been promised.
Cliffe said, “There’s an opportunity to increase the taxes on those who have more land.”
Town Assessor Brigette Grawe noted that the taxable status date has passed as of March 1, so no changes can be made until next year’s tax roll, which would first be used for 2015-16 school taxes.