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by Susan Mikula Campbell
The Wheatfield Town Board on Monday decided it had done enough homework and heard enough protests by residents to go ahead and pass a biosolids law for the town.
The board unanimously approved Local Law No. 3 to applause from most of those in the audience.
The law, available on the town's website, affects the development of new or expanded facilities that treat or store biosolids within the town. The motion noted that biosolids (containing human waste) "pose unreasonable risks to public health and the environment within the town."
The law specifically affects the Quasar Energy Group's anaerobic digestion facility on Liberty Drive and the Ohio-based company's plans to inject its product equate into county farm fields as fertilizer. Equate is what is left over after the digestion process creates energy.
The board also set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Aug. 11 on two revisions to the town code.
One would allow a special use permit to modify an existing anaerobic digestion facility to allow the conversion of treatment processes that meet Class A standards (Quasar's equate is Class B under current state and federal regulations), and also allow modifications that would significantly reduce potential threats to health and the environment.
The second revision would set penalties for violations of the biosolids law.
Supervisor Bob Cliffe said, "The Town Board is not attempting to put Quasar out of business." He noted that while equate now cannot be applied in Wheatfield, there are "still a lot of places that would take that material."
A public hearing on the biosolids law preceded Monday's meeting, beginning with statements from Sean Carter of Matrix Environmental, the town's environmental consultant, and the town's environmental attorney, Steven Ricca from Jaeckle Fleischmann and Mugel.
Carter gave a geology lesson on the types of soils and drainage in the town and county, and described borings taken at farmland on Lockport Road and near Oppenheim Park.
He noted that only 2.8 percent of the agricultural land in the town has suitable soil for land application of biosolids and that land is broken up into small parcels, not one big area.
"Over 99 percent of the land in Wheatfield is not suitable for land application," he said.
Once the hearing began, residents started lining up to speak, many restating their lack of trust in the adequacy and the intent of state and federal regulations and supporting a tougher stance in Wheatfield. They also promised to provide information on Wheatfield's fight against biosolids and Quasar to other areas of the county and country.
"You're messing with the wrong community," said Monica Daigler.
"I'm not the smartest guy in the room, but I know we shouldn't be putting this in fields where we grow our food," said William Yaple.
While they approved of Wheatfield's new law, some residents said more could be done. Laurie Galbo said, "If we could get the Class A biosolids in the law, I'd be even happier."
John Wozniak said more needs to be done by regulators, especially an epidemiology study, before anything else is dumped on Niagara County.
Also among the speakers was Assemblyman John Ceretto, who said with the environmental mistakes made in the past in this area, having biosolids containing pharmaceuticals on our food is the last thing needed. Residents have a right to know whether the food they purchase for their children is safe, he said, proposing that food grown on land treated with biosolids be labeled.
On the other side of the fence, Quasar attorney Paul Keneally said, "It is very important for the Town Board to sit back and make sure they have all the facts straight."
Quasar's local representative Nate Carr noted that when the company started asking for permits in the spring of 2012, it followed all the town rules, and when opposition arose from the community, it made its experts available.
"We maintain that equate is a safe and beneficial product," he said.
Nathan Carr, Quasar's biomass account executive, issued the following statement after Monday's Wheatfield Town Board meeting:
"Quasar Energy Group is disappointed by the Wheatfield Town Board's actions this evening to approve the biosolids ordinance. The ordinance is inconsistent with both the long-standing policy of the State of New York and previous approvals by the Town Board and the Town Planning Board. Further, the action is based on misinformation about quasar's project.
"We are pleased to note, however, that the Town Board made last minute revisions to the local law language on Friday that considers the opportunity to install next generation technology. Quasar has pioneered state-of-the-art water cleaning technology, which we are currently demonstrating in Wooster, Ohio. This full-scale pilot system makes this the most advanced anaerobic digester in the country.
"Quasar facilities produce sustainable renewable energy and address regional waste management challenges. We are committed to our investment in the region, and we are anxious to collaborate with the Town of Wheatfield to do the next right thing."