The Town of Tonawanda is nearing completion of a wastewater treatment plant addition that will pass treated biosolids onto trucks to be taken elsewhere.
But exactly where the treated waste will be taken has yet to be determined.
The Town Board on Monday awarded contracts to Quasar Energy Group and Modern Landfill and is also exploring the possibility of an agreement with another municipality for incineration.
“With the timeline on this project, we wanted to make sure we had some place to take it and give them time to go through the permitting process as well,” said Michael E. Kessler, the town’s director of water resources.
Quasar has proven to be a controversial option.
The Town of Amherst in May stopped sending sewage sludge to Quasar’s digestion plant in Wheatfield. Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said that the issue of whether the plant’s byproducts are safe to be spread on farm fields as a fertilizer known as “equate,” which has roiled several Niagara County towns, played a role in the town’s decision.
Councilman Joe Emminger said the Town Board is not committed to any of its options but is aware of the controversy surrounding Quasar.
“Now, the next discussion is ‘Where are we going to send it?’ and that obviously is going to come into play,” he said.
Quasar was the low bidder, with costs of $33 per wet ton delivered to the Wheatfield plant and $31.50 to its West Seneca plant. Modern Landfill would accept the town’s biosolids for $34.75 per wet ton. The town estimates the cost of biosolids disposal at $420,000 per year.
Whichever option the town chooses, that company will need approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“The town will not be hauling their biosolids to any location until they have the required permits by the DEC or other agencies that’s required to receive the town’s biosolids,” said Erin B. Cunningham, resident engineer for the town’s project. “Even though two contracts were awarded, it’s included in the documents that permits for accepting biosolids need to be in place well before the town begins making any kind of arrangments.”
The town at its plant on Two Mile Creek Road currently operates two incinerators built in 1966 and 1973 that face costly upgrades under new federal government regulations. Rather than pay an estimateed $7.5 million for those significant improvements, the town determined in 2012 it would be cheaper to shut them down.
“Hauling it elsewhere to another location was the most cost-effective and viable option for the town,” Cunningham said.
Construction on the $2.6 million process area began in September and is expected to be complete in August. Currently, sprinning centrifuges extract water leaving the biosolids in a cake form that is moved on a conveyor belt to the furnaces.
The new process will take the biosolids cake from the conveyor into the new area where it will fall down a chute into one of two trailers, which will be trucked out daily. That setup was based on Amherst’s process, Cunningham said.
The byproduct left behind has been pitched as an excellent farm fertilizer, but opponents say it contains human waste and thus may contain hazards including pathogens and heavy metals.
“I think our approach here has been to go out and do the bid process, get things in place, get an award and let the DEC govern as they’re supposed to and make decisions as we go forward,” Kessler said.
The town has some leeway before it needs to make the switch, he said.
“We’re going to go through a process of working out the bugs on the new equipment,” he said. “We don’t have to shut down the furnace immediately. We can continue to run as we are today until we get all those decisions in place.”