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Wheatfield requests state endorsement of biosolids ban

WHEATFIELD – Although the Town Board has already passed a town law banning the use or storage of biosolids in Wheatfield, the board members voted Monday to ask the State Legislature to pass a special law permitting the action.

The board passed the measure last summer and it is being challenged in court by Quasar Energy Group, whose subsidiary, Sustainable Bioelectric, operates a plant on Liberty Drive in Wheatfield and another in West Seneca.

The company contends that the Town Board exceeded its authority when it voted July 28 to ban the future use and storage of biosolids, in this case meaning material derived from food waste and sewage sludge, which Quasar uses to generate methane gas. The methane, in turn, can be used to produce electricity or compressed natural gas.

On Aug. 11, the board amended the law to apply the ban even to those who already had state permits allowing land application of the byproduct of Quasar’s process, which the company calls “equate.” Quasar offers it to farmers for use as fertilizer, and Milleville Brothers, a large Wheatfield farming operating with land in several Niagara County towns, holds a permit for its use at as many as 10 locations.

Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole said, “The Town of Wheatfield’s position is, we already have and have exercised our statutory authority to pass the biosolids law. … But we think the additional authority would be helpful.”

Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston, attended Monday’s meeting and told the board, “I’m ready, willing and able to carry that for Wheatfield.” He added, “I’m hoping it gives you the teeth you need to fight this battle.”

Quasar filed its lawsuit in Erie County. The town was successful in getting the case shifted into Niagara County, but O’Toole said it has not yet been assigned to a State Supreme Court justice in Niagara County.

Ceretto said State Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, told him he would sponsor the same bill in the Senate. Ceretto said it’s likely that the Legislature won’t take up home-rule messages until June, however.

Towns, including Wheatfield, were inundated with public demands for a ban on the use of the product on cropland, because it is derived in part from sewage sludge, which contains processed human waste and anything else that someone might flush into the sewers.

The board’s resolution Monday reiterated its finding that biosolids present a health and environmental danger, as well as potentially harming “the growing market for certified organic wine, fruit and other produce in Niagara County, which is threatened by the proposed land application of biosolids on adjacent or nearby lands.”

Ceretto is sponsoring a bill that would give all towns the authority to ban biosolids, but he also is recommending that individual towns send home-rule messages to Albany, seeking passage of individual bills giving them the power to pass such bans.

However, the state Department of Environmental Conservation says biosolids are safe, and they also have been endorsed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture, as well as by the New York Farm Bureau.

email: tprohaska@buffnews,com