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Amherst officials have postponed to Jan. 14 a public briefing on troubles with an $8.3 million fertilizer project at the town's Tonawanda Creek sewage-treatment plant.

The project was supposed to convert sewage sludge into marketable fertilizer pellets this year. Instead, the pellets smell too bad to be sold, and Amherst has continued to dump its sludge in landfills at a cost expected to top $500,000 for the year.

David Jenkins, an internationally known microbiologist, is due in town early next month to trouble-shoot the project at a cost of $8,400, plus expenses.

In addition, results of recent equipment performance tests are expected in the first or second week of January, Town Engineer Paul M. Bowers said Tuesday.

"There was nothing to report at this time," Amherst Supervisor Susan J. Grelick said in explaining the cancellation of a public briefing on the issue that had been scheduled with engineers and consultants Monday. She said the session has been rescheduled for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the town Engineering Department on North Forest Road.

"With the test results still out and Dr. Jenkins not here yet, we would have had to set up another meeting anyway," Bowers said.

The meeting Monday was requested by Council Member William L. Kindel to update current and incoming Town Board members as well as the East Amherst Taxpayers Association.

The association has criticized town engineers for not moving quickly enough to find out what is wrong with the $8.3 million project and correct it.

Instead of marketing fertilizer pellets, Amherst taxpayers are still shelling out about $50,000 a month to truck sludge to landfills, Kindel said. That is in addition to the $1 million per year in debt service and operation and maintenance costs.

The homeowners association "has raised legitimate questions" and "could have at least been brought up to speed" Monday, Kindel said. "They were just looking for a status report. It's not as though nothing new has happened in the last 20 to 25 days," he said.

Mary Ann Jerge, the homeowners' spokeswoman on the issue, could not be reached to comment Tuesday.

Jenkins is a professor of environmental engineering at the University at California at Berkeley. He and others have confirmed the presence of nocardia bacteria in the Amherst treatment system.

Nocardia may be contributing to, or causing, "foaming" in sewage digesters, which prevents their operation as high-rate instead of low-rate units. But authorities said other causes could include digester mixing and/or loading and the design of the converted digesters themselves.

Micro-Link, an Elma environmental consulting firm, last week claimed to have had the solution to Amherst's problem for months, but has been unable to get town officials to listen. The firm offered to sign a contract from which it would earn nothing if its proposed solution was unsuccessful.

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