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Prohibition on ‘equate’ is OK’d in Wheatfield, but with modification

WHEATFIELD – The Town Board yielded to public demands Monday night in agreeing to a local law banning the use or storage of sludge-related products, but after the crowd went home, the board passed a modified version of the temporary moratorium that it originally planned.

That way, Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said, the town will have some prohibition on the use of “equate” while the ban law is being prepared.

“The safest thing to do, the smart thing to do, is to pass the moratorium,” Cliffe said.

A noisy, two-hour public hearing on the moratorium ended at about 9 p.m. Monday with a standing ovation for Councilman Larry L. Helwig, who said the moratorium law should be converted into a ban on the use and storage of material such as the byproduct from Quasar Energy Group’s anaerobic digestion process, which the company calls equate.

Since one of the main ingredients in the digestion process is sewage sludge, that means equate is made in part from human waste, as well as food waste and cooking oils.

Quasar has faced an uphill battle trying to overcome public objections to its intended use for the equate, which is to sell the nitrogen-rich, watery material to local farmers as fertilizer.

Nathan C. Carr, a Quasar biomass xecutive, announced near the end of the hearing that the company was dropping its proposal to build a 5 million-gallon equate storage tank behind the digester, which opened on Liberty Drive last November. The tank was a second choice after local opposition scuttled its original plan for a 10-million-gallon lagoon on a farm.

Carr said Quasar is considering alternatives, including technologies that would avoid the need for storage.

The hearing featured Love Canal and cancer survivors who warned of letting a corporation spread pathogens on fields, as well as some residents who said that allowing the practice would produce an exodus of residents from Wheatfield.

Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole, who insisted that banning equate use would be unlawful since the state already has approved its use and granted permits to 10 Niagara County farmers, continued to have misgivings about instituting the ban. He predicted litigation and said he would likely need to hire outside counsel.

“It is going to be an uphill fight. We’ll do the best we can,” O’Toole after the marathon meeting ended at about 10:30 p.m.

The stated purpose of the moratorium was to block the tank project and the further spreading of equate while giving the town a chance to draw up a stronger solid-waste law. Now a public hearing on a law banning equate from Wheatfield is set for 7 p.m. May 12. “We’re fast-tracking what we were going to do with the moratorium, anyway,” O’Toole said.

The crowd at the hearing argued against that, but O’Toole said a strict interpretation would shut down the Niagara County Sewer District treatment plant, which also is on Liberty Drive.

Cliffe said he has talked to the Milleville Bros. Farm, the only one with an equate permit, and was promised that no equate would be used despite the permit. “This is going as far as we can lawfully go until we can go further,” he said.