Public sentiment in Wales is strong for the Town Board to establish a one-year moratorium on storing and spreading sewer sludge.
A public hearing on the topic Tuesday attracted almost as many residents from neighboring Marilla as it did from Wales, with all but one of the eight who spoke favoring the moratorium.
Councilman Michael Simon said a moratorium would allow the town to research biosolids such as sewer sludge before designing a local law that would place restrictions on the material.
“The whole issue of biosolids is certainly something that’s relevant to surrounding towns,” Simon said. “We’re trying to get in front of the issue because right now, as far as we know, nobody’s planning on spreading biosolids in this town.”
Simon said a committee formed by the town is “very active and diligent” studying the issue from all sides in order to help the town make an informed decision, and cautioned that a moratorium should not be perceived as a prediction of the law’s outcome.
Biosolids such as sewer sludge are a byproduct of anaerobic digesters, which convert solid waste into methane gas.
The sludge is marketed locally by West Seneca-based Quasar as a fertilizer called “equate.” Last year, Quasar contracted with a Marilla farmer to store the sludge.
“We feel a moratorium is the best way in the short term to protect our residents because quite frankly we don’t know whether biosolids are harmful or not,” Simon said.
“We’re erring on the side of caution.”
Marilla resident Joseph Barber cautioned the board not to wait too long to pass a moratorium.
Barber said that if the state issues a biosolid permit in Wales, the town must wait four years before it could impose restrictions on a permit holder.
“You’re better off protecting yourselves while you’re thinking about it,” Barber said.
Wales resident Kenneth Brown is opposed to the moratorium and any restrictions.
Brown pointed out that sewer sludge has been approved by the federal Environmental Protection Angency, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Cornell Cooperative Extension.
“All of them seem to think it’s safe,” Brown said. “To deny a farmer the ability to use a product that has that much backing is unfortunate for our local farmers.”
The board will likely make a decision on the moratorium May 12.