WHEATFIELD – The Wheatfield Town Board voted unanimously Monday to ban the use and storage of biosolids in the town, except by those who already have permits.
The law was triggered by controversy over the disposal of byproducts from an anaerobic digester operated by Quasar Energy Systems on Liberty Drive.
The facility takes food waste and, most controversially, sludge from sewage treatment plants, and converts it into methane gas that can be used to produce electricity or compressed natural gas. But the process creates a byproduct, which Quasar calls “equate” and which the Department of Environmental Conservation calls biosolids.
The watery material is high in nitrogen, making it, in Quasar’s opinion, a good fertilizer. But as opponents continually point out, it contains processed human waste and anything else that is flushed down sewers.
“We’re talking about pathogens,” resident William Yaple said. “I’m not the smartest guy in the room, but I know we shouldn’t be putting this in fields where we grow our food.”
“Quasar’s been a great citizen of the town, complied with the law, complied with every request,” said Paul F. Keneally, attorney for Quasar, who has previously hinted at a lawsuit to challenge the new law.
He said the town didn’t issue the revised law and accompanying environmental assessment form until Friday afternoon and said the town should delay action until it was discussed with the company.
“This has not been a fast process,” Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said. “I think I can say another two weeks, another four weeks, probably wouldn’t make a great deal of difference in what we’re going to do.”
Quasar issued a statement saying the new law is inconsistent with state policy and the town’s previous approvals of the company’s presence. “Further, the action is based on misinformation about Quasar’s product,” the statement said.
Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole said a public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 11 on adding penalty provisions – fines of $50 to $100 an acre for illegal application of biosolids.
A second offense would call for a fine of $100 to $200 an acre, and the judge would have the option of also imposing a maximum of 30 days in jail. A third offense would be a misdemeanor with a sentence of 90 days to a year in jail.
Resident Julie Otto said she’d rather see suspensions of production as a penalty instead of fines.
Keneally claimed the law as written might prohibit the use of animal manure, new septic tanks or the hauling of material cleaned out of septic tanks.
Sean Carter of Matrix Environmental, the Orchard Park firm hired by the town as an environmental consultant, said that pharmaceuticals and personal-care products are among the nine most frequently encountered contaminants in ground water.
Carter gave a presentation that showed that the DEC shouldn’t have given a permit to Milleville Brothers Farm to use equate on a field on Nash Road. That’s the only one of the 10 Niagara County fields, later reduced to nine, for which the DEC granted permits for equate use.
Carter said there are 168 acres in Wheatfield, where the application of biosolids would be allowed under current DEC rules. Carter offered no opinion as to why the DEC granted the permits anyway.
The rules he cited involve soil types, depth below the surface at which ground water is found, and required buffer zones around property lines, waterways and buildings within which biosolids cannot be used.
Those 168 acres are scattered, mostly north of Lockport Road and along Nash and Shawnee roads. Carter said a small part of Milleville’s Nash Road field would be legal for biosolids use, but most of it is silty clay, a type of soil on which biosolids are not supposed to be allowed.
Carter said that Monday, the DEC sent him an email asserting that silty clay loam, a common soil type in Wheatfield, should be allowed for biosolids use, but was “inadvertently left off the list in 2003.”
O’Toole asked Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, who was at Monday’s meeting, to introduce a bill to investigate “the DEC’s attempt to change the regulations regarding allowable soil types.” Ceretto, R-Lewiston, said he would.
“I’m not for the spreading of any hazardous waste, especially material that has pharmaceuticals in it,” Ceretto said. “There’s an old saying: ‘You are what you eat.’”
“The people in Albany want anaerobic digestion, and just dump it on Niagara County,” resident John Wozniak said.
“At this point in time I have no trust in the company or the DEC,” said Monica Daigler, one of the leaders of the citizen movement against Quasar.
“We maintain equate is a safe and beneficial product,” said Quasar spokesman Nathan C. Carr. who added that more than half of the sewage sludge in the U.S., and more than 30 percent in New York, already is spread on fields. Carr noted that in Niagara County, the City of Lockport and the Town of Newfane compost their sewage sludge and sell it to gardeners.
Daigler said she opposed the provision in the town law that would allow Quasar to modify its plant to produce a byproduct that is less hazardous. Otherwise, the law allows Quasar to continue doing what it has been doing since November, when the plant opened a year after receiving town approval, and doesn’t block Milleville Brothers from using its existing permits.
“This deal was forced on the residents of Wheatfield. It is vile, loathsome and despicable,” resident Laurie Galbo said. She charged that the town did not do its homework on the Quasar project and warned the Town Board, “This deal is your legacy.”