If Quasar Energy Group thought it would have an easy time spreading sludge made of human sewage on Niagara County's farm fields, their attitude likely changed last week when a powerful state official weighed in against them.
State Sen. George D. Maziarz (R-Newfane), the third-most-powerful man in the State Senate, put himself squarely against Quasar and the Department of Environmental Conservation-backed efforts to spread "Equate," a sludge created from human waste, on farm fields throughout western and central Niagara County.
"This is a bad plan all around," Maziarz told the Reporter after meeting with Wheatfield town officials. "Even with Quasar now promising to store—and let's underline that word, 'store'—their sludge in a 5-million gallon tank instead of open-air ponds, it doesn't change the fact that Quasar wants to spread that sludge on farm fields in four of the fastest-growing towns in Western New York."
Maziarz has been closely following the Quasar story since late last summer, when former Lewiston Councilman Ernest C. Palmer (R-Lewiston) and Councilman Michael Marra (R-Lewiston), began sounding the alarm. An invitation by Wheatfield officials to meet with town residents last week officially brought Maziarz into the fight.
Making clear to the Reporter his position on Quasar's plans, Maziarz said "I am opposed."
Under currently-approved DEC models, Quasar would be allowed to spread their sludge on 10 approved farm fields in Lewiston, Wheatfield, Pendleton, Cambria and Wilson. Adding to local officials' frustration, Quasar is already seeking permission to spread its footprint to additional sites in Niagara, Erie, and Wyoming counties.
Speaking to the Reporter, Maziarz pointed to DEC documents he said should concern residents of every town with active farmland in the county.
A December 2013 "fact sheet" prepared by the DEC makes assurances that "New York has been regulating these practices for more than 30 years" sounds hollow.
On applying " Equate" to farm fields:
"Land application is prohibited in areas where groundwater is within 24 inches of the ground surface at the time of application … [or] where bedrock lies less than 24 inches below the ground surface. Land application is prohibited on water saturated ground or during heavy rainfall."
On controlling odor: "Some practices for controlling odors at the site of a storage facility include allowing a crust to form on top of the liquid in the storage tank that will naturally capture and contain odors."
On monitoring soil for toxin levels: "[A]nnual soil sampling is required. The soil will be analyzed for the following parameters: pH, arsenic, cadmium, chromium (total), copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, and zinc."
Maziarz said the questions raised by the DEC documents were enough to raise his ire.
"Here you have communities that are growing with new residents, new homes, new subdivisions, and a handful of farms are slated to receive fertilizer made of human waste," Maziarz said. "There may be a place for these products, but it's not in Western Niagara County."
"We have been vocal in opposing this, and opposed the open-air lagoons last year," Marra said. "The DEC and Quasar backed off that plan, and instead decided to install a 5-million gallon tank. That does nothing to address the concerns of families in Lewiston and elsewhere."
At least one county lawmaker agreed.
Legislator Tony Nemi (R-Pendleton), a strong Maziarz ally, said he had been in contact with members of the Town Board's Republican majority about the issue, and that town attorney Claude Joerg was already drafting a local law to block the use of Equate on Pendleton farms.
"Pendleton's population has grown by a third since 1980, and while agriculture remains a key part of who the town is, who we are, agricultural practices need to be in-line with what a growing community of homeowners expects as well," Nemi explained. "Spreading human sewage on farm fields isn't really a workable plan."
Pendleton Councilman David Fischer, who, like Nemi, has strong doubts about Quasar's plans, was blunt: "We want our farmers in Pendleton to succeed, we support them, but this plan just isn't good for families and homeowners," Fischer said.
Fischer also said he has been meeting with members of Pendleton's planning board to erect barriers to spreading Equate in the town. Lewiston's Marra and Wheatfield officials said similar plans were underway in those communities.
Maziarz said the fight was far from over.
"My office will be engaged in this process as well, and I am letting the DEC know our thoughts in the matter," Maziarz said.