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Planners defer action on sewage sludge storage

Posted on Friday, March 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm

MILFORD – A member of the Caroline County Planning Commission grilled a representative of Synagro about the company’s plans to build a sewage sludge story facility, and the commission deferred action on proposed zoning ordinance amendments that would pave the way for it.

After questioning a company official at length following a public hearing on the proposed amendments at the panel’s regular Feb. 20 meeting, Commissioner Les Stanley said he also wanted to confer with a representative of the state Department of Environment Quality, which regulates the application of sewage sludge – biosolids – to farm land for fertilizer.

The commission voted unanimously to defer action on the proposed amendments until its regular March 20 session and was expected to meet with a DEQ official at its monthly work session rescheduled for March 13.

Synagro, which already applies biosolids to agricultural land in Caroline, is considering building a storage facility on a site on a remote farm operated by Maxie Broaddus off Perimeter Road in the Bowling Green District. The storage facility would be about 300 to 400 feet by 120 feet.

The county’s zoning ordinance currently does not allow such facilities. The proposed amendments would allow biosolids storage facilities by a special exception permit in areas zoned rural preservation or agricultural preservation but designated agricultural preservation in the county’s comprehensive plan. The amendments would require a minimum of 500 acres and a set-back from the property line or public right of way at least 750 feet, and the storage facility would have to comply with pertinent state regulations.

About 15 sites in Caroline would meet those requirements, Angeline Pitts, a county planner, told the commission during a briefing on the proposed amendments.

The public hearing drew supporting remarks from one person and opposing remarks by another.

Caroline farmers have been using biosolids on their land for years, noted Lynwood Broaddus, who lives on Mattaponi Trail in the Milford area and also is president of the Caroline County Farm Bureau. A storage facility simply would enable Synagro to store material temporarily when fields are too wet and soft for equipment operations, he suggested.

Melinda Normand attended the commission’s meeting for a public hearing on another matter but used the opportunity to speak against the proposed amendments. Sewage sludge was applied to farm near her home on Guinea Station Road in Woodford, she recalled. “It was horrible.” The road was dirtied for a week and neighbors became ill from the smell, said Normand.

She would hate to see Caroline become the “sludge capital of the state,” she said, and urged the commission to proceed slowly in considering the proposed amendments.

Stanley, who represents the Bowling Green District, where Synagro is considering building the storage facility, began his questioning of company representative Steve McMahon by asking if there was a “nationwide shortage of biosolids” that was prompting the need for storing material in Caroline.

The company does not plan to store extra or surplus material, said McMahon. When fields are wet and soft and tractors and other machinery cannot operate without disturbing the ground and causing ruts, biosolid material either must be stored or sent to a landfill, he explained.

In response to further questions by Stanley, McMahon noted there would be no financial benefit to the county other than the increased value of the property by virtue of the structure and any additional real estate taxes that would generate. Fourteen thousand acres in Caroline is permitted to allow application of sewage sludge, he said. The company also applies the material in thinned pine plantations. DEQ officials conduct on-site inspections of applications. Most of the odor associated with sewage sludge occurs during the application process. A covered storage facility, such as the one contemplated by the proposed amendments, would “tremendously” curtail the smell, said McMahon. The material would be delivered via truck from wastewater treatment plants in Alexandria, Arlington, and other municipalities.

“My concern,” said Stanley, is the impact a hurricane or other such occurrence would have on the storage facility, and what steps the company would take to mitigate the impact.

The sludge would be not exposed to rain or runoff because it would be contained in an enclosed structure, McMahon pointed out. In addition, state regulations require they be located at least 500 feet from surface water.

Synagro has another storage facility in Fauquier County and two in King and Queen County, one in Newtown and the other in West Point.

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.