Building new or expanding existing anaerobic digestion facilities in West Seneca was put on hold Monday night, when the Town Board unanimously approved a six-month moratorium during which it will address concerns about such operations.
While town representatives intend to look at existing codes to determine whether there are appropriate standards and controls for the siting and regulation of facilities that process and dispose of sludge, sewage sludge and septage, some residents suggested during a public hearing that the town further regulate operations at Quasar Energy Group’s plant on North American Drive, which opened in January.
“Right now, the language of this law allows us the opportunity to pause,” Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan said.
The plant processes organic wastes — including food byproducts and treated municipal sewage — creating energy-producing biogas and a fertilizer that the company calls “equate.” There is another Quasar plant in the Town of Wheatfield, and controversy has erupted across Niagara County and in the Town of Marilla in Erie County as the company sought storage facilities for the equate.
There also was a public hearing Monday in Wheatfield, where lawmakers proposed a law banning use or storage of equate from the plant on Liberty Drive. Residents remain unhappy that the law doesn’t shut down the plant; it would bar the expansion of those activities.
In West Seneca, resident David L. Kims urged Meegan to unite with other municipal leaders to stop the storage and application of equate to farmers’ fields, which already has occurred in Niagara County.
“This problem is not going to stay local in Western New York — it’s just going to spread,” Kims said.
An emergency meeting last weekend of West Seneca’s Environmental Commission produced a declaration of support for the moratorium.
“The goal is to look at the pros and cons of this procedure,” commission member Karl R. Spencer said, and to do what’s in the best interest of the community.
“I do support the moratorium on this,” said resident Beverly A. Leising, who fears that the temperature at which the organic wastes are treated aren’t high enough to kill potentially harmful bacteria.
“I’m concerned it might go into our water system,” Leising said. “I don’t want another Love Canal.”
Fueling the call for a moratorium were rumors about expansion plans for the West Seneca plant and an operational hiccup that occurred there in March, when a biological reaction inside a tank — where materials are mixed before they’re “cooked” by microorganisms in a digestion tank — caused a valve on top to open, spilling foam down the outside.
“The safety device on the top of our tank functioned as it was designed and released the pressure,” Nathan C. Carr, a local account executive for Quasar, explained last week. Crews wearing waterproof suits pressure-washed the side of the tank.
Quasar notified the state Department of Environmental Conservation about the incident.
A spokeswoman for the DEC concurred with Carr’s account. Staff from the agency’s Divisions of Materials Management and Air Resources inspected the site on at least two occasions to ensure cleanup was done quickly and thoroughly, said spokeswoman Kristen Davidson.
“DEC is evaluating the incident,” Davidson said.
Carr said that there are no plans to build a storage tank at the West Seneca facility or any other expansion.
“We don’t have any immediate plans for an expansion at this point,” Carr said. “We are considering developing some new technology that would greatly reduce the amount of storage we would need or eliminate it entirely.”
The DEC spokeswoman said that there are no applications pending for the West Seneca digester. Further, she said, “there are currently no sites permitted for land application of equate in Erie County.”
In the meantime, Carr said, Quasar has trucked loads of equate to Ohio, where the company is based and has numerous storage facilities. “We have done it periodically over the last couple of months,” he said.