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Wheatfield board candidate who opposes biosolids to return $500 campaign donation from friend

WHEATFIELD – Thomas J. Stevenson, a Town Board candidate who has spoken out strongly against the spreading of biosolids on farm fields, said Wednesday that he will return a $500 campaign contribution from a longtime friend who works for a company that has biosolids interests.

Stevenson, a candidate in next week’s Democratic primary, said the donor was the best man at his wedding, a former local resident who wrote a check when he learned of Stevenson’s run for office.

But Robert W. Flammia, one of Stevenson’s opponents in the Sept. 10 primary – Shirley J. Joy is the other – denounced Stevenson for being “hypocritical” in taking the money from Robert J. Staniszewski of Pell City, Ala.

Staniszewski works for AECOM, a wide-ranging worldwide engineering company with many interests. Its website says one of its services is the setup of “advanced membrane bioreactors” that offer “clean power from biosolids and waste” and “solid waste byproducts for beneficial use.”

“They actually do exactly what Quasar does here,” Flammia said.

Quasar Energy Group operates an anaerobic digester on Liberty Drive in Wheatfield, which uses food waste and sludge from sewage treatment plants. In a month-long process, microbes decompose the waste and sludge into methane gas, which can be used to create compressed natural gas or to generate electricity.

The watery, nitrogen-rich byproduct left behind is touted by the company as a good fertilizer, and Quasar offered it to area farmers. But foes say they oppose using what they prefer to call “biosludge” on fields where crops are grown, since it was derived in part from human waste or anything else that might have been flushed down a toilet.

Even though the state Department of Environmental Conservation says the use of the byproduct is safe and desirable, the Town Board, under heavy public pressure, last year banned the application of biosolids. Quasar is challenging the legality of that legislation in State Supreme Court.

Steven said neither he nor Staniszewski knew that AECOM is involved in that type of business. Wheatfield anti-biosolids activist Laurie Galbo posted on Facebook an AECOM document she found online in which the company proposed a biosolids system for the city of Honolulu.

Galbo wrote, “I have no personal issues with any of the candidates. But honesty and integrity are crucial.”

Flammia said, “I have lots of friends. None of them are going to hand me $500 to run for town office if they don’t expect anything. It’s hypocritical to me.”

Stevenson said he and Staniszewski once shared an apartment. “I’ve known the guy for 40 years,” Stevenson said. “He says, ‘I want to support you, I’m going to write you a check.’ ”

He said he will return Staniszewski’s donation. “He’s connected with a company that does (biosolids), and I’m vehemently opposed to it,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson is trying to obtain an independent spot on the November ballot as a candidate of the No Bio-Sludge Party. However, he and his running mates may soon see the No Bio-Sludge petitions invalidated by the Niagara County Board of Elections.

The Republicans have challenged the legality of 130 of the 335 petition signatures filed to establish the No Bio-Sludge line, which would take them below the 262 needed to qualify for the ballot. There also was a Democratic objection, but it cited only 16 signatures, 15 of which are also on the Republican challenge.

Besides Stevenson, the other No-Bio Sludge nominees are Thomas J. Larson, a Republican running against incumbent Robert B. Cliffe in the GOP supervisor primary, and David T. Lee, a Republican running against incumbents Larry L. Helwig and Gilbert G. Doucet in a GOP primary for the Town Board.