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Wales steps closer to establishing sludge law

As the only municipality in Erie County that relies solely on wells for its potable water, the town of Wales appears to have more at stake when it comes to environmental regulations.

Town officials watched closely over the past 18 months as a handful of Western New York communities, such as neighboring Marilla, adopted local laws restricting the use of sewer sludge and other biosolids.

Now, after performing their own research, members of the Wales Town Board are ready to unveil a local law that would ban the use of biosolids in the town.

Councilman Michael Simon, who was tasked with coming up with the law, presented a draft of the law to the board on Tuesday with the hope that if the council approved the measure, it could host a public hearing at its April meeting and then vote on it.

Simon noted that time is becoming a factor; a board-imposed moratorium on biosolids is set to expire in May.

“If you have any changes, certainly we’ll talk about it,” Simon said. “Otherwise, if it’s acceptable then at the next meeting we’ll run it up the flagpole.”

Biosolids – a byproduct from a process in which solid waste is broken down in anaerobic digesters and converted into natural gas – are marketed to farmers as a fertilizer.

Because biosolids can include human waste and heavy metals, many are skeptical about reports that the product is safe, which has led to communities taking steps to regulate its use.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation reports that biosolids are closely monitored and safe for spreading as a fertilizer, but independent organizations such as cooperative extensions aren’t convinced.

For Simon, the safety and health of town residents clinched the decision to propose a ban.

“A lot of the science says there’s minimal risk,” Simon noted. “But we have well water. We can’t afford any risk with well water. This is predicated by protecting the water supply.”

Councilman Gerald Klinck agrees with Simon that even a slightest risk isn’t worth the gamble, pointing out that the chances of Wales receiving municipal water are slim.

“It doesn’t look like we’re getting city water any time soon,” Klinck said. “We have no alternative; there’s no plan B for us.”

Simon stressed that the town isn’t looking to ban farming operations or the rights of farmers to spread manure or other fertilizers nor will residents be banned from using manufactured fertilizers from local stores.

“We’re banning the biosolid product that is manufactured from human waste at municipal plants,” Simon said.