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As if Amherst's pellets didn't already have an image problem, now they're considered an insurance risk.

Town Board members Monday agreed to delay action on a contract to sell pellets made of processed sewage sludge to Nutrients Plus of Virginia Beach, Va., a fertilizer manufacturing company. The agreement came after officials learned that the company also wants to be protected against any damage caused by Amherst's pellets.

The insurance could cost up to $25,000, or nearly as much as the $31,000 that the town hoped to collect for selling the pellets to Nutrients Plus, officials say.

"When the insurance costs almost as much as the purchase price of the product, you've got a problem," Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones told board members.

During negotiations, the company agreed to accept Amherst's self insurance, but Jones said he wanted board members to understand "the risk and reward of the contract."

Still, Town Engineer Paul M. Bowers complained that, "The risk is less than taking (fertilizer pellets) to a landfill."

This is another chapter in the saga of the pellet project, which has cost town taxpayers an estimated $16 million since its inception nearly 10 years ago, The Buffalo News reported in December.

That report also noted that the pellet project has failed to meet town officials' original dream of becoming a national marketer of fertilizer and earning up to $400,000 a year from sales. Instead, the program has been dogged by a series of problems, some of which have never been solved.

As a result, Amherst gives away most of what it produces, and it has continued to pay for landfill placement of large amounts of pellets.

The man who oversaw the process, former plant operator Anthony R. Canna, was removed from the town's sewage-treatment plant after he insisted the project was poorly designed. Amherst officials have been involved in disciplinary hearings for most of the last two years in an attempt to fire Canna.

Bowers has maintained that the pellet project is a success and that the town has saved money by avoiding the need for landfill placement of large amounts of heavy wet sludge.

But Town Board members, who have asked State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi to examine operations at the sewage-treatment plant, seemed to be growing weary of the pellet problems. "Just throw them on the golf course," Council Member Shelly Schratz told Bowers.


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