March 2015

March 30th, 2015

WHEATFIELD – State and local farm organizations are speaking out in favor of the use of biosolids as fertilizer and against the push to allow individual towns to ban their use.

The statements from the Niagara County and New York State farm bureaus come as Quasar Energy Group is suing the Town of Wheatfield to try to overturn its biosolids ban, while several towns are asking the State Legislature to allow them the power to pass such bans, too.

Although Wheatfield has passed a resolution in favor of such a “home rule” law, Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole said at last week’s Town Board meeting, “We also believe the Town of Wheatfield has the authority to enact the law it did without further authority from the state.”

Quasar, whose anaerobic digester in Wheatfield produces plentiful biosolids as a byproduct, disagrees and has filed suit in State Supreme Court seeking to overturn the law on the grounds that it exceeded the town’s authority.

The original suit was filed in Erie County, but the town was successful in having the venue shifted to Niagara County. However, as of last week the case had not yet been assigned to one of the State Supreme Court justices in Niagara County, O’Toole said.

The state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which sent the town a complaint about the law last fall, wondering whether the Wheatfield law impinged on the right to farm, has not yet made any response to the information the town sent in reply.

The position of the state and county farm bureaus is that any regulation of biosolids should come from Albany.

“The Department of Environmental Conservation and Ag and Markets are the appropriate regulators,” said Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau. “They have the skills and abilities to make that determination.”

The state Farm Bureau’s 2015 policy priorities say, “We support the education of both farmers and the public on the benefits of using biosolids as a source of fertilizer. … Municipal prohibitions restricting the use of biosolids should not be allowed.”

James J. Bittner, a Somerset fruit farmer and president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau, said, “Biosolids have been safely and widely used in agriculture for decades. Farmers should have the right to choose whether or not to use it on their land.”'

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March 11th, 2015

COLUMBUS — Promising that it’s just one more step, the Ohio House today unanimously approved a bill designed to control agricultural fertilizer runoff that contributes to algal blooms on Lake Erie like those that briefly contaminated Toledo’s water supply last summer.

Critics characterized the bill as not strong enough while backers of its provisions argued that the state has to proceed carefully so as not to undermine the state’s number-one industry.

But in the end all came together to support the bill, knowing that it’s likely to have little effect, if any, on this year’s algal bloom season.

Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) told her colleagues about awakening on the morning of Aug. 2 to the warning that Toledo area residents “can’t touch the water … It was so scary.”

“We’re taking such a baby step on this…,” she said. “This is real stuff … I implore you to do much, much more and take the politics out of it.”

Rep. Brian Hill (R., Zanesville), a farmer who chaired the committee that fashioned the bill, argued that agriculture “stepped up” even though it is only part of the problem causing the nutrient load in Lake Erie.

“I’m regulating my own industry,” he said. “This is what I do … I know (House Bill 61) doesn’t go as far as some would like to see, but we all realize this is a beginning ... It really isn’t politics to me. It’s our number-one industry.”

The bill restricts application of manure and chemical fertilizers at times when the ground is frozen, snow-covered, or otherwise saturated and when the forecast calls for significant precipitation. In some cases, that means farmers will have to invest in storage facilities to keep manure until it can be spread.

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