by Susan Mikula Campbell
The Wheatfield Town Board on Monday gave residents a chance to comment on the first draft of a local law amendment to ban equate, as well as a chance to meet and question both the environmental attorney and environmental consultant hired to help create the law.
After a lengthy public hearing during which most of those who spoke repeated what they had said at previous meetings, residents were told their concerns will be included in what is hoped to be a final draft to be presented at the regular Town Board meeting at 7:30 p.m. June 2. Wheatfield Supervisor Bob Cliffe promised the board would be taking a serious look at the Quasar/biosolid law at that time. Meanwhile, the current draft can be reviewed on the town's website, wheatfield.ny.us/.
That draft was developed by Town Attorney Robert O'Toole and the town's newly hired environmental law specialist Steve Ricca of the Buffalo firm of Jaeckle Fleischmann and Mugel, and new environmental consultant Sean Carter from Matrix Environmental Technologies Inc.
O'Toole said the proposed law is the most comprehensive in the state, "and as far as we can tell, in the entire country."
Ricca said the proposed ban is an attempt to do all that is possible at the municipal level, and that it is lawful and done according to legal procedure.
O'Toole acknowledged that residents would like to shut down the existing Quasar Energy Group facility on Liberty Drive completely, "but unfortunately the town cannot take that action."
Nathan Carr, the Ohio-based Quasar's local representative, said that the proposed ban is neither viable nor legal. He insists that equate is safe.
"As an alternative to lengthy litigation, we're willing to prove it," he said, adding that residents' fears might be "boogeymen."
He suggested the town and Quasar set up third-party testing at an independent lab of equate for pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, pathogens and other possible hazards that frighten residents.
"If it's safe, then let Quasar continue on with business," he said. "If it's not safe, we don't want to put it in the ground."
Quasar's anaerobic digestion facility is on Liberty Drive. What's causing all the stink, in residents' opinion, is that the company when applying to build in the town failed to mention that the materials being digested to create energy would not only include things like spoiled food and grease from local restaurants and companies, but the largest percentage would be treated human waste or biosolids from wastewater treatment plants. Residents, remembering the shadow of Love Canal and the county's continuing problem with hazardous waste, don't want any part of equate, the material left over after about a month of fermenting at the Quasar plant. They also don't want the nitrogen-rich equate spread on any local farm fields as fertilizer.
The proposed local law amendment would prohibit in the town the collection, storage, processing, handling, recycling, disposal and/or land application of biosolids, digestate and/or other sludge derived from municipal wastewater. The proposal notes the potential health risk, impact on the environment, air pollution and other nuisance conditions, and the possible effect on property values.
The six-month moratorium, passed last month, is still in effect while the ban is being developed.
Questioned by a resident on why the Town Board approved having Quasar come to town in the first place, Cliffe noted the company's proposal was investigated and approved by the town's Planning Board, the county Planning Board and the county Industrial Development Agency.
"I don't think anybody even thought there would be 50 percent of sewage sludge going into that tank," he said, noting that no one started to become alarmed until requests for lagoons and storage tanks came on the table.
While some people launched verbal attacks against the board for allowing Quasar in Wheatfield, resident Helene Petrakis recalled how the grassroots effort to fight Quasar started with a meeting in her driveway with her neighbors after a lagoon on Raymond Road was proposed. She said she did not feel comfortable leaving the meeting with people saying the board did not listen.
"You, the board, have listened to everything we've said," she said. "I feel we are on the same side. ... Protect all of us and all our children; that's what's important here."
Also supporting the residents' stand against Quasar are State Sen. George Maziarz and Assemblyman John Ceretto, who have requested that the state Department of Environmental Conservation suspend any equate permits already given to farmers.
Some residents mentioned that they have no faith in the DEC and that the state has allowed Western New York to become a dumping ground.
"If this comes to our area, you're going to see a lot of families leaving," predicted Sue Downing.
"We've got to start saying no to some of this stuff," said another resident. "They (companies like Quasar) really don't care about anything except the money."
Wheatfield resident Monica Daigler, pictured, a former science teacher, gave the Wheatfield Town Board a visual of why residents are concerned about crops grown on fields treated with equate with an "experiment" that involved putting celery stalks in tap water and food coloring. The celery had taken up some of the red coloring by the end of the meeting. (photo by Susan Mikula Campbell)