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Wheatfield, state keep jousting in biosolids dispute

WHEATFIELD – The state Department of Agriculture & Markets continues to insist that Wheatfield’s law banning the use of biosolids on farm fields is too restrictive. Nevertheless, in correspondence released by the town last week, the department left the door open for further discussions.

The town’s environmental attorney, Steven J. Ricca, replied to the state agency by seeking more information on what locations Milleville Brothers Farm might plan to use the material. Ag & Markets’ letter claimed there were four sites in Wheatfield, but the town knows of only one, Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole said.

He speculated that the state agency might be counting three sites in the Sanborn area that aren’t actually within Wheatfield’s borders. “If they listed more, we don’t know about it,” O’Toole said.

The Town Board passed a ban on the use or storage of biosolids last summer after a controversy over the activities of the Quasar Energy Group’s anaerobic digester on Liberty Drive.

That plant takes food waste and sludge from sewage-treatment plants and, in a monthlong process involving microbes, converts most of the material into methane gas, which the company intends to use to generate electricity or to produce compressed natural gas to run vehicles.

However, the process leaves behind a watery byproduct the company calls “equate.” It is high in nitrogen, and Quasar has offered it to local farmers as a fertilizer.

That’s where the controversy arose, because critics say equate contains whatever is flushed into a sewer system, ranging from human waste to potential chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Although the state Department of Environmental Conservation supports the use of such biosolids as fertilizer, opponents think that applying such material to fields is a bad idea.

Quasar, under the name of its Sustainable Bioelectric subsidiary, has brought suit against the town in State Supreme Court, attempting to have the Wheatfield law invalidated. The next court session before Justice Frank Caruso is at 9:30 a.m. June 25 in Niagara Falls.

Ag & Markets’ letter quotes farm owner David Milleville as saying the use of equate as fertilizer would save him $150 to $200 per acre over the cost of commercial fertilizer. The department’s opinion is that the use of biosolids in agricultural districts cannot be regulated by local governments.

The town’s environmental consultant, Matrix Environmental of Orchard Park, reported last year that almost all of the land in Wheatfield is unsuitable for biosolids because of the soil type and the shallow groundwater, in many places within 2 feet of the surface. The state agency said the depth of the groundwater varies seasonally and the town could amend its law to restrict application when the water table is highest.

Ricca’s response sought full information on the four Milleville Brothers Farm fields where equate would be used and sought a delay in the 30-day deadline for a full town reply until after that information is received.

O’Toole said of the Ag & Markets document, “It’s not a decision. They said (the town law) might be a violation, but it might not be a violation. I think they just waffled.”