by Susan Mikula Campbell
With the Quasar controversy, the Wheatfield Town Board has grown used to crowds of residents in the meeting room lining up to protest. But at Monday's Town Board meeting, a new, surprisingly large group showed up to peck down a proposed ordinance on the keeping of fowl in residential areas.
The public hearing on the matter went into overtime, as residents, sometimes several generations of one family, objected to the permits, the limits and the inconvenience the law would impose on raising chickens, roosters, ducks, turkeys or pheasants on their properties.
Councilman Larry Helwig noted his son used to raise pheasants as part of a 4-H program through the LaSalle Sportsman's Club. "This was a good project for kids," he said.
Councilman Gil Doucet, who also has had "farm" animals on his Ward Road property, proposed that the model chicken ordinance be abolished and any neighbor problems be handled on a case-by-case basis. His fellow board members concurred, and at the end of the meeting, a young girl in the audience ran up to Doucet to offer her thanks.
The Wheatfield Planning Board had prepared the proposed chicken ordinance after Shawnee Road resident Karen Lowery complained about odors, garbage and the sight of slaughtering from her neighbor's chicken operation.
At the public hearing, Lowery, the only anti-chicken speaker, said she's not against people having a couple of birds, but her neighbor's operation is a business that prevents her from enjoying her home into which she has put thousands of dollars of improvements.
The neighbors, Dave and Carrie Bazinet, countered that the 50 chickens raised in two batches last year were "happy birds" and raised for eggs and personal and family consumption. They brought a state Department of Environmental Conservation report to prove that no violations were found after Lowery's complaint resulted in an inspection.
Mark Hersee of Crescent Drive was among several residents who got up to talk about living in a traditionally farming area like Wheatfield and being able to raise chickens in the backyard that produce eggs to share with family, neighbors and friends. Some city people who move into Wheatfield's housing developments want "to change the law to suit where they were before," he said.
Doug Siegmann said he's lived on Errick Road for 53 years and has raised chickens and Cornish hens on his 25 acres of property. The only complaint he received was when he butchered a rooster and a neighbor complained he missed the sound of it crowing.
"I'm tired of people with money coming into this town and pushing people around," he said, emphasizing that the Town Board should be concentrating on things like drainage and roads, and not turning what is essentially a neighbor issue into a law. "One guy is doing it wrong and you're taking it out on the rest of us."
Councilman Randy Retzlaff said that, at most, the town should look at some slaughtering regulations. "Be courteous to your neighbor," he said.
Councilman Art Gerbec added, "We don't need to be deciding a chicken law this year. We have a lot more on our plate."
Part of that "lot more" was the usual anti-Quasar contingent reporting on their calls and Internet research showing the dangers of using the human waste on farm fields and violations by anaerobic digestion companies elsewhere.
"Most of us here don't want any part of this," one resident said. "It's toxic waste, it's not healthy, it's not safe."
Wheatfield resident Adele Wurl, who was part of the original grassroots protest against Quasar, has been out of town for the past several months. She came to the microphone to thank the Town Board for imposing a moratorium on Quasar's equate application in the town while a law banning the product is created. "Keep it up. Let's get rid of it," she said.
Town Supervisor Bob Cliffe reported that work on the proposed ban by the independent environmental expert and environmental attorney is continuing, and that the latest version of the ban should be ready for the Town Board's June 23 meeting.
Cliffe emphasized that the ban would only cover the application of equate on town farm fields and the building of new equate storage facilities. The town cannot legally shut down the company's existing facility.
Nate Carr, Quasar's local representative, said business at the company's treatment facility on Liberty Drive is down to a minimum at present because they are not able to do land application of equate here.
He said most of the cases online showing health problems with biosolids application to fields involve dry sludge on a farm field's surface. Quasar injects its equate into the ground.
He noted that he can't speak for other companies, but Quasar works within the law and "goes above and beyond that. ... The bottom line is that Quasar does it the right way."
In other Quasar issue matters, the board voted to increase the available funds for its environmental consultant, Matrix Environmental Technologies, to an amount not to exceed $25,000. It also approved a motion to join other Niagara County towns and State Sen. George Maziarz and Assemblyman John Ceretto in urging the DEC to revoke any permits already granted for application of equate on farmland within Niagara County.