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April 2, 2004

Sludge grudge comes to end



Doug Bradley, co-owner of the Funeral Mountain Ranch, watches as a worker scoops up sewage sludge for loading onto a spreader.
Members of Citizens Against Sewage Sludge claimed a victory in stopping the shipment of sewage sludge by the Orange County Sanitation District into Amargosa Valley.

The sanitation district had been shipping four daily truckloads of sludge, also known as bio-solids, to the Funeral Mountain Ranch for application as fertilizer.

A letter from Blake Anderson, general manager of the Orange County Sanitation District addressed to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., states the company would stop shipments as of March 26.

Anderson's letter states: "Bio-solids management sites used and technologies employed by OCSD are constantly changing due to factors including weather, crop requirements, new technologies and regulatory requirements. Consequently, opportunities to utilize new Class A bio-solids composting capacity have resulted in plans to reallocate the four trucks per day of bio-solids that are currently being recycled in the Amargosa Valley to alternative sites."

Anderson states his company has been a leader in developing environmentally responsible approaches to the management of bio-solids. He boasted the district was the first agency in the nation certified by the National Bio-solids Partnership.

However, many Amargosa Valley residents have been alarmed at the dumping on the ranch, on the western end of the valley on Casada Road. The Amargosa Valley Town Board on March 26 passed an ordinance banning the application of sewage sludge in the valley.

Jerry Nelson, chairman of Citizens Against Sewage Sludge, said while the town ordinance now has to be forwarded to the Nye County Commission, public pressure on government officials higher up, namely Reid's office, put a stop to the shipments.

"Basically what happened was that we put a lot of pressure on Orange County and Orange County decided voluntarily to pull out of this operation. Actually it's a first for Orange County to actually voluntarily leave a dumpsite. So we made quite a splash in the industry you might say," Nelson said.

Reid, a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, contacted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt, expressing strong concerns over the application of the municipal sewage sludge.

"The application of sludge has given rise to nuisance pests and health concerns among my constituents. The same sludge product was banned from Mohave (County), Arizona due to health problems and concerns," Reid wrote, in a letter dated Feb. 6. He mentioned a Cornell Waste Management Institute study that identified more than 35 sites where neighbors in Mohave County, Ariz., reported illnesses.

Reid gave Leavitt a list of questions about application of bio-solids including protection from airborne pathogens, water runoff and infiltration, a lack of information about pollutants in bio-solids and regulations protecting workers and neighbors from flies and pets attracted to the sludge.

Reid, in a press release, said he worked out an agreement with the sanitation district to stop disposal of the sewage sludge in Nevada.

"The Orange County Sanitation District has been a leader in managing the disposal of waste in an environmentally responsible way," Reid said. "Orange County officials have worked well with the state of Nevada and I applaud them for responding to the concerns of Amargosa Valley residents."

Nelson said Reid asked the Orange County Sanitation District questions about the safety of the sewage sludge they weren't able to answer satisfactorily.

"This doesn't exclude Solid Solutions from pulling out. Solid Solutions is the sludge handler," Nelson said. But asked whether it was a victory for his organization, Nelson said, "Absolutely. For the entire community, that's just one down."

But Nelson added, "I feel that the landowner will be persistent in finding new sources."

Funeral Mountain Ranch owner Bill DeWitt wasn't available for comment. In previous comments before the Amargosa Valley Town Board, DeWitt said unless he fertilizes his fields with something economical, it's not feasible to grow alfalfa. He said the pathogens in the sludge were extracted before being applied to the land.

Nelson repeated his allegation DeWitt is getting paid to accept the sludge, a claim DeWitt has denied. DeWitt said accepting the sludge, which was transported to the farm by Solid Solutions at no cost to the ranch, saved him the cost of paying $8,000 for a truckload of conventional fertilizer.

Mike Moore, environmental compliance and monitoring manager for the Orange County Sanitation District, said it wasn't a first for the district to close the Funeral Mountain Ranch site; the company often shifts its disposal sites. But he acknowledged Reid's concern played a role in the company's decision.

The sludge deposited in Amargosa Valley was defined as Class B bio-solids. Moore said the sludge is now being deposited in a composting facility in La Paz County, Ariz. Moore said they shipped 21,000 wet tons of sludge to the ranch over the 10-month period, fertilizing 220 acres.

Bruce Holmgren, an engineer with the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection bureau of water pollution control, said he requested a Nevada Attorney General's opinion on whether Nye County could halt the shipments of sewage sludge. Holmgren said he hasn't received an answer yet.

Holmgren noted, "We have a permit with Solid Solutions that allows the bio-solids to be brought from five plants, two of which were the Orange County plants."

If Orange County Sanitation District stops transporting sludge, Holmgren said Solid Solutions could still ship the bio-solids from the City of Riverside wastewater treatment plant, the City of Oceanside/La Salina wastewater treatment plant and the City of San Oceanside/San Luis Rey treatment plant.

"Even if Orange County pulled out there were still three facilities that were covered under the Solid Solution Funeral Mountain Ranch permit," Holmgren said. He said NDEP hasn't been notified by Solid Solutions they wouldn't ship sludge from those sources.

During the hue and cry over the current shipments of sludge, NDEP held a hearing in Amargosa Valley last November over a request by Solid Solutions to triple the daily application rate from 100 cubic yards to 300 cubic yards. Holmgren said no decision has been issued on that request yet.

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