PENDLETON — Unlike Wheatfield, the Town of Pendleton is not planning a ban on the spreading of the byproduct generated by anaerobic digestion, called “equate.”
Supervisor James Riester and Town Attorney Claude A. Joerg said Tuesday that an amended solid waste ordinance, on which the Town Board intends to vote May 12, will set up a permit process controlled by the Town Board that is more likely to pass legal muster.
“When people want a total ban on this, you could end up with nothing,” said Joerg, who also is Niagara County attorney, to a crowd of about 100 people at a hearing Thursday.
“It would be a shallow victory to write a great, restrictive piece of legislation that is essentially a ban and have it taken away,” said John T. Kolaga of Damon & Morey, a Buffalo law firm hired by Smith’s Orchard of Pendleton. He said he’s sure a tough law can be crafted that would survive a legal challenge from Quasar Energy Group, the owners of the Wheatfield digester.
Joerg and Kolota agreed that even though the state Department of Environmental Conservation allows equate and has issued permits for spreading in on 10 different fields in Niagara County, state law allows towns to have tougher environmental regulations in some areas.
Quasar uses bacteria to process food waste and sewage sludge into methane, used to generate electricity and compressed natural gas.
The byproduct left after 25 days of processing, called equate, is a watery, nitrogen-rich material that the company wants to sell as fertilizer to farmers who would inject it into the ground.
The proposed law includes a 500-foot setback for applications that are allowed, but the orchard owner, Brendan Smith, said he was concerned that spreading of equate on nearby fields owned by Milleville Brothers Farm might ruin his business.
Joerg said that Pendleton has a right-to-farm law, as does the state, and anything that interferes with Milleville’s rights could be slapped down by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
“What about my right to farm?” Smith asked. “He can still farm if he doesn’t apply it. I can’t.”
Riester said he checked with Milleville Brothers and was told they won’t spread equate this year on a field adjoining the playground at Fricano Elementary School on Mapleton Road.
Kolaga said the state DEC has withdrawn from Milleville’s permit the authority to spread equate on that field.
But residents remained convinced that equate use shouldn’t be allowed in Pendleton.
“Our bodies got rid of that waste and to bring it back, in highly concentrated levels in good old Pendleton, is just unacceptable,” resident Paula Hargreaves said.
“Since I heard about this, I want to put my home up for sale so fast,” 35-year resident Nancy Kreppeneck said. “I feel like we’re being treated like animals, not like humans.”
Tim Freundschuh, another resident, said he supports the notion of reprocessing waste. “I have a huge issue with what you do with it afterward,” he told Nathan C. Carr of Quasar. “The reason is money, isn’t it?”
“No, the reason is sustainability,” Carr said. “Landfills are limited resources, and they’re filling up.”
That’s where the equate would go if it weren’t sold, unless it were incinerated.
“I would be fine living next to a field with this spread on it,” Carr said.
“Good, we can change houses,” Sara Freundschuh shot back.
Resident Vivian Boyd said, “You’re dealing with Niagara County, which has been a dumping ground for a long time.”
“I understand that. I can’t change it, but I understand it,” Carr said.
“There’s a lot of things in (equate) that we don’t know,” said Marilla Supervisor Earl Gingerich Jr., whose town has been fighting an equate storage facility.
A letter from County Legislator Anthony J. Nemi, which was read aloud at the meeting, said he opposes the spreading of equate, but added, “I don’t believe our farmers in Pendleton are guilty of anything but trying to succeed.”
Riester and Joerg said the towns interested in the issue have met to work on sharing legal costs.