Planners get first look at amendment for biosolids facility

MILFORD – The Caroline County Planning Commission got its first look at a proposed zoning amendment that would allow a company to build a facility to store biosolids – sewage sludge that is applied to farmland for fertilizer.

Staff of the county’s department of planning and community development brought the proposed amendment to the commission to consider at its work session on Wednesday evening this week. The panel discussed the draft language and will consider changes at its next work session Feb. 6. It may hold a public hearing on the proposal at its regular meeting Feb. 20.

The draft amendment would require a biosolids storage facility to be located in an area that is designated by the county’s comprehensive plan as agricultural preservation and would be allowed by special exception in agricultural preservation and rural preservation zoning districts. The facility would have to be located on a site with a minimum of 500 acres.

The minimum setback distance to the nearest property line or road would be 750 feet. The facility also would have to comply with all applicable state regulations, and it would have to be emptied at least once a year.

The amendment is being sought by Synagro, a company that handles and processes sewage sludge for municipalities and applies the biosolids to agricultural land for fertilizer.

Commissioner Milton Bush expressed concerns about the odor that would emanate from the storage facility. “That’s that funky stuff, isn’t it?” he asked. “That stuff stinks, doesn’t it? What about neighbors?”

Commissioner William Smith noted at the panel’s December work session that the proposed storage facility is certain to generate controversy. The panel took up the issue for the first time in December although the staff had not yet drafted the proposed amendment.

Commissioner “Pete” Davis suggested this week that a storage facility should be allowed in an area designated either agricultural preservation or rural preservation and require a special exception permit.

Synagro is considering a site on a remote farm operated by Maxie Broaddus off Perimeter Road in the Bowling Green District, Steve McMahon, who works for the company in Essex County, told the commission at its December work session. 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.

At this week’s meeting, McMahon said that new state regulations covering biosolids storage facilities are awaiting the approval of Gov. Bob McDonnell. The new regulations will require, among other things, facilities to be covered and additional measures to protect them from storm water run-off.

The company has another storage facility in Fauquier County and two in King and Queen County, one in Newtown and the other in West Point. They are essentially open, concrete storage pads.

A covered structure, as required by the pending new state regulations, would help reduce the odor, McMahon suggested in December, because the material would dry and form a crust. The most pungent smells are associated with the material when it is wet, he said.

Synagro has contracts with cities such as Arlington and Alexandria to remove sewage sludge material. The company has applied biosolids to farmland in Caroline for many years. The application process is regulated by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

When Bush asked McMahon about the smell at the December work session, McMahon answered, “I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as hog litter…but it does have an organic smell to it.”

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.

Posted on Friday, January 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm