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State will review Marilla sludge restriction law

Marilla wasn’t the first town in the region to adopt strict regulations for sewer sludge, but it may be the first town to face a legal challenge.

Town officials received notice May 19 from the state’s division of Agriculture and Markets for a formal review of Marilla’s biosolids ordinance, which was approved April 24.

The request to review the local law came from Marilla farmer Stan Travis, according to attorney John Kolaga.

Travis was issued a permit last year by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to store sludge in a tank at his Eastwood Road farm.

Marketed as a fertilizer, sewer sludge is a byproduct from a process in which anaerobic digesters break down food waste and processed human waste into methane gas.

Details about the specific request or challenge to the law have not been released to the town, weeks after Kolaga filed a Freedom of Information Law request with Agriculture and Markets. 

“I asked for any criticisms or comments from any agency or person,” Kolaga said. “It seems to me unfair for them to ask us to justify the language of a 30-plus page ordinance without telling us where the criticisms are coming from and what those criticisms are.”

Kolaga said a representative from Agriculture and Markets told him Tuesday the agency will respond to his FOIL request by July 20.

To prepare an answer to Agriculture and Markets, the town council retained Matrix Environmental Technologies to assess the town’s soils and biosolids law.

Kolaga said previous discussions with agriculture and markets and DEC officials indicate the state agencies questioned local analysis of town soil and water conditions.

“It would be very useful for us to have an expert in this area who can help us anticipate and respond to any legal or administrative challenges we may see,” Kolaga said.

Representing Matrix at the council’s meeting Tuesday were its president, Sean Carter, and geologist Craig Zink.

Carter has worked for 25 years in agricultural waste management, wastewater treatment and groundwater remediation. Zink also has more than 25 years’ experience in soil and groundwater remediation.

“Craig has probably drilled and completed hundreds of soil borings and monitoring wells and characterized thousands of soil samples all from this region,” Carter said. “He’s truly an expert in soils, groundwater and drainage.”

Matrix will review town documents and maps depicting soil, groundwater, surface water, and flood plains, and compare them to DEC regulations to determine where biosolids could be used.

“I don’t know if the DEC or Ag and Markets have reviewed the soils and the lands involved” in Marilla before issuing permits, Kolaga said. “The stronger we can present our position as well-considered and researched, the better it will be for the town.”

Matrix will be paid up to $9,530 for its work.