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WHEATFIELD – A proposal to build numerous small fertilizer ponds to store byproducts from a food waste digestion project proved extremely unpopular with residents at a public meeting Thursday.

Quasar Energy Group, an Ohio company whose $7.4 million waste digestion facility is about to open on Liberty Drive, is looking for places to store the nitrogen-rich byproduct of its process, which can be used as fertilizer. Quasar, which has 11 plants and seven more under construction, is building a similar plant on North America Drive in West Seneca.

The process, called anaerobic digestion, uses microbes to decompose food waste and other organic materials, including sewage sludge, to release methane. That gas can be used to generate electricity or make compressed natural gas.

“This is nothing but a big cow,” said Clemens Halene, Quasar’s chief operating officer. “You run it at 100 degrees, and you make methane.”

Quasar’s local engineer, Kristen Savard of Lewiston, said it is no longer looking for a single large lagoon, such as a 5-acre, 10-million-gallon site on Raymond Road in Cambria, which officials in that town blocked because of a zoning issue.

Now, said Savard, Quasar wants to work with individual farmers to find sites on their land that could be used to store fertilizers those farmers would use. “We have not identified any exact sites,” she said. The locations are not limited to Wheatfield; she said Quasar is looking at sites in Cambria and the Town of Lewiston. “It is the most complicated site selection,” she said. “To name any sites would be premature.”

Nathan Herendeen, a former Cornell Cooperative Extension agent now working as a private crop consultant, told the crowd of about 50: “In my opinion, being an agronomist for 44 years, it’s absolutely stupid to send this stuff to a landfill or incinerate it. Why not spread it on the fields if there’s nothing dangerous in it?”

But many were convinced there would be something dangerous in the byproduct, called “equate.” Several speakers referred to the environmental regulations barring contact with the fields where it is spread.

Bruce Bailey, Quasar’s regulatory vice president, said the rules ban using such a field for 38 months if it is to be used to grow food for humans that comes in contact with the soil.

Harold Keener, an Ohio State University scientist who has worked with Quasar, said he doubts any farmer would want to wait 38 months before he could use a field, meaning the equate is unlikely to be used on fields that produce vegetables.

If the field is used to grow feed crops for animals, or for animals to graze, the waiting period is 30 days.

“It sounds like it’s toxic when it goes on the ground, and it’ll get in the food chain,” said Dan Killinger of Sanborn.

“I don’t trust you. Once you get your foot in the door, you may not do what you say you’re going to do,” said Edele Wurl, a Wheatfield resident.

“I’m objecting to any type of pond near my property,” said Sam Cirrito, a landowner in the town. “I don’t like this, I don’t want anything to do with it, and I don’t want it in my backyard.”

Steven Smith, Quasar’s chief financial officer, said the lagoons were never discussed when the digester was presented to the Wheatfield Town Board last year because the board was focused on the Liberty Drive location. He said they were mentioned in the application to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. But at an Aug. 12 Town Board meeting, members said they hadn’t known of any lagoons.

“You’ve got to remember, nobody trusts you,” said William Amacher, chairman of the Cambria Planning Board. “My personal opinion is, you should go back to Ohio.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com