Company seeks to store biosolids in Caroline

Posted on Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Tractor applies biosolids to farmland off Dodge City Road east of Sparta earlier this year.

MILFORD – Synagro, a company that handles and processes sewage sludge for municipalities, is seeking to develop a storage facility in Caroline County for its biosolids material, which is applied to farmland for fertilizer.

The issue, however, appears certain to raise a stink – pun intended and not intended.

Biosolids are known to be particularly pungent. In addition, the issue of putting a storage facility in Caroline is likely to ruffle feathers of some residents who may consider biosolids a less-than-desirable neighbor.

“We’re going to have a whole of people fussing about this,” William Smith, a member of the Planning Commission, said when the panel was briefed on the company’s plans during a commission work session Wednesday night.

The company is seeking changes to the county zoning ordinance in order to allow for a biosolids storage facility. The commission took the issue up for the first time, but the county’s planning staff has not drafted any proposed amendments yet. The panel will consider the issue again when it holds another work session Jan. 9.

Synagro is considering a site on a remote farm operated by Maxie Broaddus off Perimeter Road in the Bowling Green District, said Steve McMahon, who works for the company in Essex County. The farm consists of about 600-700 acres, he said. The storage facility would be about 300 to 400 feet by 120 feet, according to McMahon.

The company has contracts with cities such as Arlington and Alexandria, said McMahon, to remove sewage sludge material.

“It’s very proscribed,” said McMahon, referring to the application of biosolids to farmland, and is regulated under a state permit. Biosolids have been used to fertilize farmland in Caroline for many years, he noted.

Commissioner Milton Bush asked if the material has a strong odor.

“I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as hog litter…but it does have an organic smell to it,” replied McMahon, senior technical services director for Synagro.

The company has other storage facilities in Fauquier County and King and Queen County, where it has two. They are open, concrete storage pads that are exposed to rain and the elements, McMahon indicated. However, pending state regulations will require new facilities to be covered, he said.

A covered structure would help reduce the odor, McMahon suggested, because the material would dry and form a crust. The most pungent smells are associated with the material when it is wet, he said.

He would have to see another facility – and smell it – in order to make a judgment about the issue, said Bush. McMahon offered to arrange a visit to a Synagro site although he acknowledged that what may eventually be constructed in Caroline would be somewhat different.

The planning staff is in the process of drafting proposed amendments to the county zoning ordinance in order to allow such a facility. Planner Angeline Pitts suggested amendments that would require rezoning in order to allow a biosolids waste storage facility. She also suggested draft language requiring a minimum of about 500 acres for a storage facility and a minimum setback of about 750 feet.

Commission chairman Walter “Pete” Davis had a number of questions about what kind of requirements should be put on such a facility – the type of structure of building, whether it should be lined or be shielded with berms, and how to quantify an appropriate size.

He did not have the answers himself. “I don’t know,” he said, after raising the questions.

However, as long as the material is adequately contained and protected, Davis was of the view that authorization for a storage facility should fall under the uses that are allowed by right in certain zoning districts.

Commissioner Tim Thompson, who said he was familiar with similar facilities in other areas, disagreed. A biosolids storage facility should be allowed only by a special exception permit, he suggested.

If the wind is blowing in the right direction, it will smell, said Thompson.

The commission directed the planning staff to continue researching the issue and bring it back to the panel for its regular work session Jan. 9.

According to its website, Synagro is based in Texas and employs 800 people in 34 states serving more than  600 municipal and industrial water and wastewater facilities.


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