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Town’s clout limited on Quasar project, Cliffe says

WHEATFIELD – The town probably can’t prevent a farmer from spreading the byproducts of a controversial energy-from-waste plant on his fields, Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said at Monday’s Town Board meeting.

The topic of the Quasar Energy Group’s plant on Liberty Drive, and what to do with the organic byproduct the company calls “equate,” dominated the meeting, with residents who oppose the use of the nitrogen-rich fertilizer demanding that the town put a stop to Quasar’s hopes of building numerous storage lagoons for the liquid.

Quasar’s plant converts food waste and sewage sludge into methane gas, used to drive a turbine and produce electricity. The byproduct from the anaerobic digestion process is then to be offered to farmers as fertilizer.

Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole said so far, no applications have been received for such storage pits. But Cliffe said he expects that to change.

Cliffe said in response to an audience question that the town’s zoning ordinance probably can’t be used to prevent the use of the material by a farmer. Wheatfield is a right-to-farm town.

“A farmer has a right to farm using any legitimate product,” Cliffe said. However, the town “probably could say no to a large lagoon, even on a farm.”

That could happen because a very large facility could be deemed commercial, especially if the fertilizer was being sold to other farmers. But if a farmer digs a small pit to hold equate that he intends to use on his own land, the town’s only regulatory power would be how far the pit would have to be from his property lines, Cliffe said.

But the question of whether the use of equate is allowed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation came up repeatedly and couldn’t be answered. Cliffe said he hasn’t discussed the matter with the DEC or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“If the product is approved by the DEC or the EPA, we can’t regulate that,” he said.

Cliffe, Councilman Arthur E. Gerbec and Planning Board Chairman Richard W. Muscatello drove Saturday to Wooster, Ohio, to visit a farm that uses Quasar’s byproduct and a lagoon that stores it.

“We passed 13 new questions to them, based on our trip. We awaiting their response,” Gerbec said.

Councilman Larry L. Helwig said, “Western New York seems to be the catch-all for everybody’s waste from all over the state and the country. … We don’t want that.”

Audience members decried the waiting periods that farmers using Quasar’s product must comply with before planting various types of crops. Cliffe said he wants the full details of such waiting periods in writing. “If it’s an EPA regulation, someone send me the regulation,” he urged.

Edele Wurl, a resident who has emerged as a leading opponent of Quasar’s operation here, said farmers selling produce grown with equate should have to put a warning label on the goods. “We have to have some way of defending ourselves and making the public aware,” she said.