WHEATFIELD – The Town Board will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. today in Town Hall on the final version of a law banning future use or storage of sewage sludge byproducts in the town.
There is an exception for existing permits, and Quasar Energy Group, whose anaerobic digester on Liberty Drive has been the trigger for a year of controversy, is seeking an expanded permit to allow its byproduct, which the company calls “equate,” to be spread on more fields in Niagara and other counties.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is taking public comments until Aug. 7 on the expanded permit for Quasar’s subsidiary, Sustainable BioElectric, – but it won’t reveal exactly where those fields are.
DEC spokeswoman Lisa King told The Buffalo News in an email last week that the fields are in Wheatfield, Pendleton, Cambria and the Town of Lockport, as well as in Marilla in Erie County and Bennington in Wyoming County. The latter two fields are relatively near to Quasar’s other anaerobic digester in West Seneca. But King didn’t reply to a return email asking for the exact addresses or the names of the owners.
“The DEC hasn’t exactly been forthcoming,” Wheatfield Town Attorney Robert O’Toole said. “They won’t tell us where the fields are, which is a ridiculous position.”
Nathan C. Carr, a spokesman for Quasar, said the company believes the information should come from the DEC.
The agency previously granted permits to Milleville Brothers Farm, based in Wheatfield, for applications on nine Niagara County fields it owns. The sites are on Randall and Daniels roads in Wilson; Dickersonville and Saunders Settlement roads in Lewiston; Lockport Road in Pendleton; Nash Road in Wheatfield; and Cambria-Wilson Road in Cambria.
Meanwhile, an environmental consultant for the town will tell residents at Monday’s meeting that the DEC is violating its own policies by granting any equate use permits at all.
Sean Carter of Matrix Environmental, an Orchard Park company hired by the town, will say that restrictions stemming from soil types and high water tables in Wheatfield mean that, from his analysis, there are only 140 acres in the entire town where equate use would be legal.
Anaerobic digestion is a process that uses microbes to convert food waste into methane gas, sometimes called biogas, which can be used to generate electricity.
The process also can use sludge from local sewage treatment plants, which is the root of the controversy. Opponents say they don’t want the byproduct of the digestion process, a watery, nitrogen-rich material, to be spread on farm fields because it contains human waste and anything else that is flushed down the sewer.
However, the DEC says the process is safe, and last week Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., was touting the idea of tax credits to construct more biogas plants.
O’Toole said the board is likely to vote on the proposed law Monday night. It imposed a temporary moratorium on equate use April 28 to give it time to work on the law and an accompanying negative declaration of environmental impact.
A paragraph has been added to the law allowing Quasar to apply for a special permit “to modify the facility in such a way as to make it less damaging to the environment,” O’Toole said.
That point was raised by Carr at the July 14 board meeting, when he said the company might at some point want to upgrade its technology. The provision would allow for Quasar to produce a safer byproduct.