If officials with Quasar Energy Group hoped for an easy time spreading sludge made from human excrement on Niagara County's farm fields, the opposition of one of Western New York's most powerful players is a game-changer.
Quasar, which earlier sought permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to spread equate, a fertilizer product containing raw human sewage, on farm fields in Lewiston, Wheatfield, Cambria and Pendleton, has managed to add the very vocal opposition of Sen. George D. Maziarz to it's list of troubles.
That list has grown so long, in fact, that Quasar has even had to hire one of the country's top environmental public relations firms to try to reshape its battered image and allow it to sell human manure.
"I said early on that this product didn't belong here, in some of the fastest-growing towns in Western New York," Maziarz told the Reporter following a raucous town meeting in Pendleton where his staff reiterated his opposition to Quasar's plans to loud applause from town residents.
Maziarz called on DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens to revoke permits the DEC had granted to Quasar and its subsidiaries to spread equate throughout Western New York in an April 8 letter also signed by Assemblyman John D. Ceretto of Lewiston.
"The company claims that equate is safe, but such refrains have been heard in Western New York before only to be proven to be absolutely wrong," Maziarz's letter states, noting that the farm fields in question are mere miles from the Love Canal site. "It is unconscionable that you would allow this facility and the spreading of potentially dangerous equate to go forward."
The letter also blasted Quasar's plans to construct a massive human manure holding tank in Wheatfield—a plan abandoned by the company days after Maziarz's letter was released.
"I am opposed. Period," Maziarz told the Reporter. "There is no room for equate in Niagara County."
In Pendleton, where Democratic Supervisor James Riester has so far blocked efforts to ban equate, Maziarz staffer Jim Ward read a letter aloud to a gathering of approximately 80 town residents last week. Maziarz's words calling for a ban on equate were met with boisterous applause.
Riester, meanwhile, was unfazed, telling a WGRZ reporter later that his town government would still allow Quasar to follow its plans to spread human excrement product on six farm fields in the town. "If you tried to ban it the marketing people would throw it out, so we just want to make sure that it is applied safe and that the residents are safe," Riester said.
In neighboring Wheatfield, Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe took a different tack.
"We're grateful Sen. Maziarz has been there right next to us on this fight, both when he came out to Shawnee Fire Company and spoke against it, and when Jim Ward came to reiterate his position," Cliffe told the Reporter after voting April 28 to impose a moratorium on the use of equate in the town. "We can only do so much at the local level and need him to carry the fight for us at the state level, against the DEC. And he is doing that."
"We have real concerns about equate as a product being applied here, in the form its being applied," Cliffe said. He went on to note that town officials were not opposed to Quasar manufacturing and bagging biosolids to sell elsewhere, but "we don't want to see it being used on farms here in Wheatfield."
Cliffe spelled out the moratorium for the Reporter in writing: "The Quasar plant will be able to continue operations at their facility but will not be able to add any additional field application permits nor lagoons, tanks or other storage units for the period of the moratorium," he wrote.
"Since a ban would be a permanent law, it will take time. A new law will require that we follow the [State Environmental Quality Review] process; we need time to go through that process, and to make sure we have the right law. Our town engineer, town environmental consultant and town attorney are already working on the SEQR review," he explained.
Cliffe noted that Maziarz and Ward, a former county legislator from the rural town of Newfane well-versed in agricultural issues, had been in constant contact with Wheatfield since residents and town leaders became aware of Quasar's plans.
"Quasar backed down on storing their products in (human cesspool) lagoons, they blinked on their storage tank, and now we need them to forget about putting Equate on our fields," Cliffe said. "The Senator has backed us every step of the way in this fight."
In Lewiston, another community impacted by Quasar's plans, town officials moved swiftly to ban equate, after former Town Councilman Ernest C. Palmer began to sound the alarm about Quasar's plans during the heated supervisor race last fall.
"Sen. Maziarz and his staff backed us every step of the way," Councilman Mike Marra told the Reporter. "That's a big part of the reason why equate isn't being stored in lagoons here, it isn't being stored in a tank here, and we are going to make sure it isn't being spread on fields here."
The battle to stop farms from using equate will now largely shift to the state. As Pendleton Town Attorney Claude Joerg told us, many local laws banning equate had been gutted by the state's courts—something Wheatfield Town Attorney Bob O'Toole hopes to avoid through the very deliberate language in a proposed town law.
It is a point well worth noting that once equate is spread on a farm, that the farmer is not legally allowed to grow crops for human consumption for years because of pathogens.
Another thing to keep in mind is the odor.
As activist Joyce Snyder, who fought successfully to keep Quasar out of her town, Pittsfield, Ohio, told the Reporter, "Quasar claims an 'earthy odor,' but I think they have worked around crap too long to be able to smell the stench."
For local communities, however, it is Maziarz's involvement in the fight that may prove a game changer and keep Quasar out of our local farms.