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Wheatfield board amends law to ban application of biosolids

WHEATFIELD – The Town Board unanimously amended its biosolids law Monday to ban any application of sewage sludge and similar materials to any land in the town – even for those who already have permits from the state.

Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole said that although the two-week-old law allows the continuation of “existing facilities,” the amendment makes clear that land application isn’t considered an existing facility.

“Any land application is not grandfathered,” O’Toole said. “There’s no application in Wheatfield, ever, for anything.”

The ban passed July 28 was interpreted as making an exception for existing Department of Environmental Conservation permits, such as those held by Milleville Brothers Farm.

The controversy arose a year ago from the byproduct created by the Quasar Energy Group anaerobic digester on Liberty Drive. The watery, nitrogen-rich byproduct, called “equate” by the company, is touted by Quasar as a good fertilizer.

The company’s plant uses microbes to convert food waste into methane gas, used to produce electricity or compressed natural gas. But part of its raw material is sewage sludge – which is processed human waste.

Quasar spokesman Nathan C. Carr told the board, “I hope you’ll hold the Niagara County Sewer District No. 1 plant to the same standard.” However, the July 28 law exempts “the generation of biosolids at a public owned treatment works.”

Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said enforcement of the land application ban probably would fall on the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, since the town pays the county for dedicated patrols. He said the defendant “is not going to be the guy who drives the tractor, it’s going to be the guy who approves the contract.”

The town’s law firm, Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel, issued a letter to the DEC last week, blasting the agency for attempting to rewrite its regulations as to the types of soil on which biosolids may be spread, in an apparent effort to make it easier for application in Wheatfield to be permitted. The DEC contended that it accidentally omitted a common soil type in Wheatfield from the list of allowable biosolids sites. The letter by Steven J. Ricca of Jaeckle Fleischmann said the attempted change violates two state laws and U.S. EPA guidelines.

He also demanded that the DEC reveal the names and addresses of the applicants for further biosolids permits, which the state is now considering. The DEC has not responded to requests for that information from the town or The Buffalo News.

Monday’s amendments to the town law also add a penalty section to the measure.

A first offense for illegal land application calls for a fine of $50 to $100 per acre, and the judge also would have the option to imprison the offender for up to 90 days.

For a second offense, the penalty is $100 to $200 per acre and possible jail time of up to 180 days. For a third offense, the punishment is $200 to $300 per acre and jail time of up to a year.

Illegal production or storage of biosolids, a provision from which Quasar’s plant is grandfathered, will cost $250 to $1,000 per violation, a year in jail, or both. Subsequent violations carry a $500 to $2,000 file and/or a year in jail.

The same penalty as illegal production or storage will apply if Quasar fails to provide copies of its correspondence or reports to the DEC within seven days of their issuance.