WHEATFIELD – Residents who spoke Monday at a public hearing on Wheatfield’s proposed law banning use or storage of products derived from sewage sludge remained unhappy that the law doesn’t shut down the Quasar Energy Group plant on Liberty Drive.
The law doesn’t bar currently permitted activities pertaining to biosolids, although the law would bar the expansion of those activities.
“It does not fully protect the health and safety of us now,” objected Monica Daigler, one of the leaders of Wheatfield Against Sludge.
Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole insisted that the town can’t run Quasar out of Wheatfield. “Unfortunately, the law cannot legally take that action,” he said.
“You’re going to see a lot of families moving out of the area. Nobody wants this,” resident Sue Downing said.
As Wheatfield residents voiced their concerns about Quasar, so did residents of West Seneca, where, after a public hearing Monday, the Town Board unanimously approved a six-month moratorium on construction of new or expanded anaerobic digestion facilities in the Erie County town during which they’ll address concerns about such operations.
Some residents at a public hearing suggested further regulating of operations at Quasar Energy Group’s plant on North American Drive, which opened in January. A moratorium, passed April 28, is in effect, barring further use of the byproduct that Quasar calls “equate.”
“After the public hearing on that temporary ban, it became apparent that town residents wanted a permanent ban, and one adopted as quickly as possible,” O’Toole said.
Quasar’s plants in Wheatfield and West Seneca, called anaerobic digesters, use microbes to convert food waste and sludge from sewage-treatment plants into methane, which it can use for electricity or compressed natural gas.
The nitrogen-rich, watery byproduct left over is touted by Quasar as an excellent farm fertilizer, but its foes point out that it contains whatever pathogens were in the sewage sludge.
“Animal manure has been used as a fertilizer for thousands of years,” Nathan C. Carr of Quasar said. Manure contains all the same potential pollutants, including pathogens, pharmaceuticals and heavy metals, that sewage sludge might, he said. “Anything used as prescribed can be safe,” Carr said.
“We do believe this law can be upheld,” Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said.
O’Toole said the Town Board will try to be ready to vote June 2 on the law, which may be revised based on Monday night’s input. He said the draft law was written by environmental attorneys at the Buffalo law firm of Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel, whose hiring the board retroactively approved Monday.
Although the state Department of Environmental Conservation granted permits for equate use for 37 acres of land owned by a Wheatfield farm, Milleville Bros., O’Toole contended, “We can make laws that are more restrictive.”
But Carr predicted “lengthy and costly litigation for all parties involved.”
“We feel our products are safe and beneficial,” Carr said, proposing “a comprehensive third-party test.” If the product is proved safe, Quasar should be able to function as planned, he said, and if not, “we won’t put it on the land.”