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WHEATFIELD – The Niagara County Planning Board on Monday voted 5 to 2, with one member abstaining, to approve a plan for a 6.5 million gallon fertilizer storage pond to be constructed on the east side of Porter Center Road in the Town of Lewiston, between Swann and Langdon roads.

The lagoon will hold byproducts from Quasar Energy Group, a food waste digestion plant that has been constructed on Liberty Drive in the Town of Wheatfield.

The plan for lagoons, which has received heavy opposition from the public, still needs approval from the Town of Lewiston .

Voting against the plan were members William Angus and Walter Garrow. Richard W. Muscatello, who is also the Wheatfield Planning Board Chairman, abstained.

The Niagara County Planning Board was tasked only with giving approval to the lagoon site, not the materials being stored there, but the board had a number of questions about the food digestion process and the material called “equate” that will be used on farm fields and be stored in the lagoon.

Quasar’s local engineer Kristin L. Savard introduced the project to the board.

She said Quasar, an Ohio bioenergy company, receives organic materials at their facility, which is currently operating on Liberty Drive in the Town of Wheatfield. The process captures methane gas in a process called anaerobic digestion, using microbes from the materials to convert the product to electricity or natural gas.

Some of the materials collected include decomposed food waste, manure, fats, oils and greases, crop residuals, personal care products, and sewage sludge.

Savard said the liquid left over from the processing is called equate, a product which has already received approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. It will be applied to fields in Erie and Niagara counties. Several large-scale farmers are already planning to participate.

“We are not here to talk about equate. It’s here. It’s been approved. The reason we are here is that it has been determined that each farmer that would use this product needs to have a place to store it, because the Quasar facility in Wheatfield is going to run year-round and it is only going to be applied to farmers’ fields at certain times of the year,” Savard said.

The storage pond approved Monday would allow Cyrus Ardalan of Grand Island, who farms 500 acres in and around the Lewiston area, to receive and store the fertilizer product from Quasar plants in Wheatfield and West Seneca in a pond located in a corner of 163.8 acres of undeveloped land he owns on Porter Center Road. The lagoon would be built on a northern portion of the land which is industrially zoned.

“It’s very similar to a large storage of silage [fertilizer], except we are going to store equate,” Savard said. “It’s for his own personal use.”

She said an average of two trucks a day would come to the site, but noted it was in an industrial zone, which is not restricted to truck traffic. In addition the pond will have a clay base, pine trees for screen, a fence for safety and a cover.

Quasar Vice President Bruce Bailey explained the equate material to board members noting that the material is primarily used on agronomic crops, such as corn, soybeans, small grains and hay – not food crops. He said the equate fertilizer product is injected into the ground with a specialized machine so that it does not spread to other areas. He said they have to wait at least 30 days after a crop is fertilized to use it for nonhuman consumption. Farmers must wait 38 months after applying the product in their fields before planting crops that people would eat.

“I’ve been doing this in Ohio and in other states since the early 1980s, and it is primarily used agronomically, and I think that’s what we intend to do here,” Bailey said. “We do a lot of analysis on a daily basis,”

Garrow, who said he was previously a chief chemist for the City of Niagara Falls, questioned potential unwanted material in the product.

“We do analysis on a daily basis,” Bailey said, discussing a testing list with Garrow. “Equate is an approved material.”

“It can be very legal, but not beneficial,” said Garrow. He said he voted against the plan because he remained concerned over the environmental impact.

Muscatello, who said he abstained since this is likely to come before his board, said he had visited the plant in Ohio, along with Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe. Cliffe’s written observations were shared with the board and in them he noted that 20 feet away from an uncovered lagoon there was no hint of smell and as one got closer the smell was called earthy, “almost like being in a cave.”

Bailey said the Quasar plant will generate about 11 million gallons a year of the equate and will be looking for a second storage lagoon somewhere in Niagara County. No second site was discussed at Monday’s meeting.

“I did my homework before working for them, and I am beyond impressed. It’s very difficult for me to present this in my hometown community and get the reception we have been getting. To not embrace things like this is a travesty,” Savard said.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com