by Susan Mikula Campbell
Representatives of Quasar Energy Group explained to the Wheatfield Town Board on Monday a plan to build a cement storage tank next to the company's existing anaerobic digestion facility on Liberty Drive.
A larger than usual crowd of residents in the audience included many who felt that storage of equate, the leftover waste from the digestion process, could be a detriment to the community.
The public information session, planned for a half hour before the board's regular meeting, went on for more than an hour, and there were still more comments to come from residents after the business part of the meeting ended.
Richard Muscatello, chairman of the Wheatfield Planning Board, explained that by town law it is within Quasar's purview to ask for the addition of an accessory building to the existing business. The site plan amendment still will need approval by the Planning Board and that won't be possible until it receives and analyzes written responses to questions it posed to Quasar officials, State Environmental Quality Review Act results are in, and the input of residents and officials at the information meeting is analyzed, Muscatello said. He added that the Planning Board also will accept written comments from residents.
Quasar, an Ohio-based company, came to the Planning Board on Jan. 22 asking to construct the on-site, five million gallon storage tank.
The Liberty Drive digestion facility creates methane gas from organic products processed for up to 30 days. The facility accepts items such as manure, food waste, greases and the sludges or biosolids leftover after processing at wastewater treatment plants. The equate is what is leftover after the anaerobic digestion process and is considered a rich, natural fertilizer for farmland.
Kristin Savard, president of Advanced Design Group in Lewiston, engineers for the Quasar project, said the covered tank would be about 200 feet in diameter.
Alan Johnson, Quasar vice president, said the concrete tank would include reinforced steel, have a life expectancy of more than 50 years and be subject to annual inspections of the emptied tank by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Quasar itself does daily inspections, he said - "We're not anticipating there's going to be any issues."
Johnson and Nathan Carr, Quasar's local biomass account executive, fielded questions from residents about safety, possible leakage into the nearby creek and from there to the Niagara River, drainage, odor, truck traffic, how residents would know when equate was applied to farmer's fields, and more.
"It's a perfectly safe material," Johnson said of the equate.
"In whose eyes? The guys making the money side?" a man from the audience shouted.
Trying to explain about equate, Johnson produced a bag of fertilizer sold by local stores to the public. "This is what equate is in dry form," he said, noting that the fertilizer is produced by the Milwaukee Sewage District.
One audience member objected that would be Class A equate with all pathogens removed, while with the Class B equate for fields allows up to 10 percent.
According to the DEC, that 10 percent, such as round worms, generally dies in the field due to unfavorable conditions.
Savard pointed out that the site plan request is just Quasar's first step - everything is completely regulated by the DEC and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Those regulations and any additions to the plan required by SEQRA will be applied. However, she noted, some of the suggestions posed by residents from a business standpoint would not make sense, since spending additional money would have "no additional benefit other than appeasing the public." She said she didn't fault residents for asking questions - "If I lived next door to this, I'd be asking the same questions." There have been projects proposed for Niagara County that she would have turned down. "I don't feel this way about Quasar."
Supervisor Bob Cliffe noted that the plant and equate are approved by the DEC. "We'd better have some pretty good science on our side before we say no," he warned.
He added that there is no process to say no to farmers who want to apply equate to their fields.
Cliffe promised that details of the site plan and future Planning Board meetings on the Quasar proposal will be on the town's website.
In other matters:
•The Town Board went on record supporting the Niagara County Legislature's resolution to oppose Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to provide free education for prisoners.