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Marilla Town Board approves restrictions on sewer sludge

After two failed attempts, the Marilla Town Board on Friday passed a highly anticipated law that restricts the use and storage of sewer sludge.

Residents who packed the town’s community center for the vote broke out in applause when all five members voted for the law.

Many of those same residents had shouted at the town council in anger only 15 days earlier when the law failed to muster a second after Supervisor Earl Gingerich Jr. moved to pass it.

There was no anger on display Friday.

“The people of Marilla should be proud of what they did here,” said resident Joe Mruzik after the measure was passed. “They fought for it, they were told ‘no’ but they stuck to their guns and it came our way.”

The law sets restrictions on sludge that are tighter than those imposed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Those restrictions left the four board members uncomfortable about passing the law at their March and April meetings unless they heard from state officials.

On Tuesday the board indicated a willingness to pass an amended law if the planning board entertained opinions from the state at its Thursday meeting.

Both department had representatives speak Thursday, and the planning board approved an amended version of the law, setting up Friday’s special board meeting.

Gingerich opened Friday’s meeting by advising residents he would keep the public comment portion brief in order to keep the evening moving along.

“I assure you that the board has worked it out between Tuesday and last night,” he added.

After the vote, Handley acknowledged that the stance he and the other three council members took “upset a lot of people,” but said it was necessary to pass a law that everyone was comfortable with.

“My goal from the start was getting input from all sides, to try to find some common ground,” Handley said. “The planning board meeting was the final piece of the puzzle.”

The major changes to the amended law relaxed setbacks from surface water, water wells and state-regulated wetlands, but Gingerich noted that the final distances are still twice those set by the state.

Sewer sludge is a byproduct in a process in which anaerobic digesters convert waste into methane gas.

Although he is pleased that the law was finally passed, Gingerich said the true test will be if it is challenged in court.

“This is only the end of the beginning,” Gingerich said, quoting Winston Churchill. “We need to be united as a Town Board and as a community … please stay vigilant.”