by Susan Mikula Campbell
Quasar Energy Group, which is building a waste-to-energy plant at 2175 Liberty Drive in Wheatfield, has hit a snag in its plans.
The company is working on setting up a public meeting to answer questions of residents and town officials after a discussion at a work session prior to Monday's regular Wheatfield Town Board meeting ran on for more than an hour.
The Liberty Drive facility, like a similar new plant in West Seneca, is an anaerobic digestion system that will take organic waste (everything from restaurant grease to waste water treatment sludge) that otherwise might be sent to landfills and digest it for about 28 days. The process results in a biogas (methane) gas that is used to produce electricity, pipeline quality gas or compressed natural gas.
The snag primarily involves the leftover equate or sludge, which is valuable in itself as a nutrient-rich soil conditioner, replacing chemical fertilizer. Local farmers are interested, but it only can be applied to fields at certain times of the year. The company wants to install storage lagoons on the farms, but the public, most notably in Cambria recently, isn't so sure.
The company, based in Cleveland, collaborates with The Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural and Development Center. With the two new New York facilities, the company also plans to start to work with Cornell University.
Company representatives at Monday's meeting included Steven M. Smith, chief financial officer, who noted his car in the parking lot was fueled by Quasar natural gas that cost 50 cents per gallon.
Smith apologized several times for what his representatives called a "misunderstanding" about the storage of the equate.
Councilmen, led by Supervisor Bob Cliffe, wanted to know why they were just hearing about the need for storage lagoons now, instead of when the company first presented its plans for the Liberty Drive facility.
"When we approved this about a year ago, there was no mention of storage sites," Councilman Larry Helwig said.
"I think most of us assumed the storage would be on your property, and the farmers would come and pick it up," said Councilman Gil Doucet, who wanted to know if the company would sign a statement stating the equate was 100 percent environmentally safe.
"I don't see any reason why not. ... If I thought it would have a negative impact on the environment, I wouldn't have gotten into this," said Bruce Bailey, Quasar vice president for technical affairs.
He noted that the only odor from the equate is a slight earthy smell that some people describe as like being out in the country. The biggest issue is perception, the "ick" factor, he said.
Smith said plans weren't complete and no specific sites for equate storage are on the table at this time, but the company is considering individual storage lagoons, covered with a special membrane, per farm parcel using the equate. In the Ohio facilities, typically there is one large lagoon, he said.
"I am asking for help and guidance on what I need to do to do it right," he said.
Smith invited the Town Board to come to Ohio to visit Quasar's facilities there and also offered to hold the public meeting to answer people's questions and concerns.
Quasar currently operates 10 plants in Ohio and one in Massachusetts. By the end of the year, the two in New York and five others in Ohio will be added. Sites in Rochester, Albany, Syracuse, Long Island and Auburn also are being investigated, Smith said.
Kristin L. Savard, president of Advance Design Group in Lewiston, urged the board to take the time and really look at the project on its own merits. She said she has "seen some fantastic projects fall apart because of misinformation."
In other matters:
•Cliffe asked County Legislator David Godfrey to take to the County Legislature a proposal for a county shared services program for mosquito control in 2014, especially in view of the recent West Nile virus finding in Amherst.
"I am sure that Wheatfield is not the only town that has mosquitos," said Cliffe, adding that he has received "more calls on mosquitos this year than the entire three previous years put together."
Cliffe's proposal includes having an experienced mosquito/nuisance insect control specialist on the county staff who could work with the county's towns and cities; train their employees on how to monitor the insects, do sampling and use pesticides; maintain a supply of pesticides; and be available to answer questions.
•Thomas Malecki, of Drescher & Malecki, presented an overview of the town's independent audit for 2012. He said the deficit created about four years ago has been reversed. The general fund is the healthiest in the town and the highway fund has recovered. The fire department fund is still in a little bit of trouble, but is on its way out of it, he said.
Cliffe said anyone who wants to view the full independent auditor's report is welcome to stop at either his or the town clerk's offices.
•Councilman Art Gerbec reported that his veterans memorial committee meets at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month at Town Hall. The committee wants to have the memorial supported by donations and is considering calling it the Fallen Heroes Memorial, so police, constables and fire service members can be honored as well as veterans.
•The board went into executive session to discuss personnel issues in the Recreation Department. Afterwards, the board passed two motions. The first was a statement by the board to have the town attorney place a letter into the file of an employee as part of a disciplinary proceeding. The second was a motion to add supplemental charges against Recreation Director Edward Sturgeon, as part of an Article 75 proceeding.
•The next Town Board meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26.