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Quasar giving up on plan for tank to store byproduct in Wheatfield

WHEATFIELD – Braving hecklers, a Quasar Energy Group official told the Town Board at the end of a two-hour public hearing Monday that the company is giving up on its proposal for a 5 million-gallon storage tank for the byproduct that the company calls “equate.”

The announcement came as the board was planning to vote for a six-month moratorium on the storage or use of sludge, sewage sludge or derivable products – a move aimed squarely at the Quasar proposal. That also was canceled; instead the town will seek a permanent ban.

“The 5 million-gallon tank is off the table,” said Nathan C. Carr, a biomass account executive. He said the company is considering a smaller storage facility, or changing its operations so no storage facility is needed. He said many of the opponents were making false statements. “I hope there are repercussions,” he said.

That riled up the crowd, because Quasar, according to town officials, never mentioned the need for storage facilities.

“You could say rose petals are safe at this point and I wouldn’t take that,” said Monica Daigler, one of the leaders of the anti-Quasar forces.

James Janker, of Ferchen Street, drew heavy applause when he shouted, “We’re not going to have another damn Love Canal and spread all this crap through the air and poison us all.”

Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole said, “Quasar initially told the town what they were going to use in that tank was waste cooking oil and rotten food.”

“It would seem to me that would constitute fraud,” resident Thomas Stevenson said to shouts of audience approval. “There should be an immediate ceasing of operations.”

“This moratorium has to be a ban,” Councilman Larry L. Helwig said to a long standing ovation. O’Toole said a new public hearing would have to be held because of the significant change in the moratorium law. It will be held May 12.

“We really and truly thought this was an environmentally green thing to do,” Councilman Arthur W. Gerbec said. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us if we’re going to put this ban in place.”

O’Toole insisted that the town can’t simply run Quasar out of town. “We can’t adopt a law retroactively,” he said.

The changes came after the board took plenty of heat from town residents in an overflow crowd of about 150 for allowing Quasar into town in the first place, allowing it to use its Liberty Drive plant, which opened in November, to turn food waste and sewage sludge into methane gas, used to produce electricity and compressed natural gas.

O’Toole said a moratorium is the same as a ban for six months. He called for using that time for “a thoughtful and thorough examination of the issue” and “upgrading” of its solid-waste law.

William R. Angus, representing Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston, denounced what he called “a toothless moratorium document. … Let’s not waste more time arguing, investigating or worrying about lawsuits.”

He returned to the microphone, telling the board, “You’re petrified of a lawsuit. There should be a lawsuit, but you should be initiating it.”

“We’re not petrified of a lawsuit,” O’Toole said, over derisive shouts from the crowd. “We want to do it right, not fast.”

Equate, the byproduct left over after nearly a month of anaerobic digestion, has produced fear and anger in hundreds of town residents.

The concern has spread throughout other towns. Pendleton will hold a public hearing on a similar moratorium at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.