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Hearing set on sewage sludge storage measures

Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 10:51 am

MILFORD – The Caroline County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at its regular Feb. 20 meeting on a proposed zoning amendments that would potentially allow a company to build a facility to store biosolids – sewage sludge that is applied to farms for fertilizer.

The panel took a second look at the proposed amendments at a regular work session on Wednesday of last week, and it was clear that two commissioners have problems with the proposal. Commissioner Milton Bush outright was opposed to the biosolids storage facility, and Les Stanley expressed concerns about the amount of truck traffic it may generate.

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

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.

It would take 250 truckloads of biosolids material to fertilize a 500-acre farm, said Stanley. “That’s a lot of truck traffic on rural roads,” he said.

Stanley also said he had “very big concerns” about language in the amendments that would allow the storage facility to be up to 35 feet tall. It would be better to set the height as a condition of the permit, he suggested.

Under the proposed amendments, a biosolids storage facility could be allowed by a special exception permit in areas zoned rural preservation or agricultural preservation but designated agricultural preservation in the county’s comprehensive plan. It would require a minimum of 500 acres and be set back from the property line or public right of way at least 750 feet. The storage facility would have to comply with pertinent state regulations.

Bush expressed concerns about the odor that would emanate from such a storage facility. Referring to neighboring residents, he said, “I wouldn’t want to be one of them.”

Chairman Pete Davis noted that biosolids already are applied to agricultural land in Caroline County.

Bush was not assuaged, however. “What about the public?” asked Bush. “What are they going to say when they smell this stuff?”

Davis also noted that the storage facility will be enclosed to keep the material dry, which will reduce odors.

“Nobody wants it in their backyard,” observed commissioner Tim Thompson.

“How could I vote for something” that will impact other people, asked Bush, “if I don’t want it for myself?”

The odor generated from biosolids comes mainly from spreading it on fields, added Davis.

“When you store it, you’re going to smell it,” said Bush.

“I understand what you’re saying,” said commissioner William Smith.

At the December meeting, McMahon said that new state regulations will require, among other things, biosolids storage facilities to be covered and additional measures to protect them from storm water run-off.

Synagro 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.

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.