The Wheatfield Town Board will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday regarding a ban on the use or storage of biosolids in the town, except for existing facilities.
It’s a move several residents demanded and at least two councilmen endorsed during a noisy and emotional hearing two weeks ago on a six-month moratorium on the use or storage of sewage sludge and related products.
The controversy was generated by the byproduct of the Quasar Energy Systems plant on Liberty Drive, which opened in November. Sludge from sewage treatment plants and food waste, such as cooking oils and grease, are subjected to a 25-day anaerobic digestion process, in which microbes break the material down into methane gas, which can be used to generate electricity or to make compressed natural gas.
The watery, nitrogen-rich leftover material is called “equate,” and Quasar says it makes excellent farm fertilizer.
But because it contains the remnants of human waste, plus anything else that may by put down a sewer, many residents are alarmed at what they see as a health threat, an impression the company has been trying to counteract.
The state has issued permits for the equate, and Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole said an outright ban on it probably will not stand up in court. He said last week he has hired environmental attorneys from the Buffalo firm of Jaeckle Fleischman & Mugel “to do research on buttressing our position as much as possible.” O’Toole said he wasn’t sure if the board will vote Monday. The law was not on the agenda of action items released Friday by the Town Clerk’s Office. But he said waiting until the next meeting June 2 wouldn’t be a big deal.
“The town already has a ban in place,” he said, referring to the moratorium the board passed at the April 28 meeting. “It’s a temporary ban. We’d be making it permanent, and there’d be no gap.”
The four-page law adds an article on biosolids and sludges to the town code, barring the use, collection, or storage of any product containing human waste. There is an exception for private septic systems and “publicly owned treatment works,” which was designed to keep the Niagara County Sewer District treatment plant, which is located in Wheatfield, from becoming illegal.
As for other existing facilities, such as the Quasar plant, the law allows their continuation but forbids their expansion.
In other Quasar-related developments last week:
•Nathan C. Carr, a Quasar biomass executive who has been taking the brunt of criticism at recent hearings, confirmed that the Town of Amherst is a supplier of sewage sludge to the Wheatfield plant. Brendan Smith, owner of Smith’s Orchard in Pendleton, supplied the contract to The Buffalo News. Amherst pays Quasar between $32 and $33.50 per ton to take the sludge under a 10-year deal signed last summer.
•Carr also confirmed a report to The News from a Wheatfield resident that Quasar makes equate available to farmers for free during a trial period before making a longer-term contract in which the company is paid for the material.
•The Niagara County Legislature last week passed a resolution endorsing the request from State Sen. George D. Maziarz and Assemblyman John D. Ceretto that the state Department of Environmental Conservation should revoke all permits it has issued for equate use in Western New York.