You want to put that sludge where?Some residents living on Mt. Carmel Road, near the western edge of Red Wing, are upset over a city proposal to inject treated sewage sludge into nearby farmland.
By: Jon Swedien, The Republican Eagle
Some residents living on Mt. Carmel Road, near the western edge of Red Wing, are upset over a city proposal to inject treated sewage sludge into nearby farmland.
Red Wing City Council will vote Monday whether to buy 340 acres at 6063 Mt. Carmel Road for $1.75 million. If the council approves the purchase, public works officials will seek a permit to use the farmland as a disposal site for the city's biosolids.
Biosolids is the term given to sewage treated at municipal wastewater treatment plants that is turned into sludge and commonly used as an agricultural fertilizer.
"It's sewage, they just give a nice name to it," said Sue Safe, a neighborhood resident whose property abuts the farm.
She said she and her neighbors are skeptical.
"It just seems a little shady to us."
About 20 residents from the Mt. Carmel neighborhood met Tuesday night at a neighbor's house to discuss the proposal.
Some said they're dead set against the idea of sludge being applied to land near their homes. They were concerned about the potential for negative health and environmental impacts.
Others said they were unsure exactly what to think, but were wary of the notion.
And many said they felt snubbed that city officials didn't ask them what they thought and were suspicious that the city was perhaps looking to sneak something by them.
Council member Dan Bender attended the meeting. He took notes and fielded questions.
The city is hosting an informational meeting at 5 p.m. Monday at the public works building, 229 Tyler Road North. City officials said they planned the meeting earlier this week after council members received calls from concerned residents. City officials said they hope Monday's meeting will help smooth out the situation and answer any questions residents have.
City Council President Mike Schultz said the city didn't notify residents before the sale was arranged in large part because the deal came together quickly.
"This all happened so fast. I didn't realize it was going to go this fast," Schultz said.
The city realized the land on Mt. Carmel Road was available after it went to sell land in Featherstone Township in November, city officials said.
Red Wing had bought that land in 1990s with the intent to spread sludge on it. The township outlawed the practice, however. The city sued and lost.
Council discussed buying the Mt. Carmel land twice in closed session before agreeing to pursue a purchase agreement, which both the city and the seller, Thomas Furlong, have since agreed to.
The money for the purchase will come from the city's sewer fund, which is supported by ratepayers.
The Mt. Carmel land is needed as a disposal site, public works officials say, because the city produces more sludge than it can store or has land to apply it to. Stricter environmental regulations are behind the storage problem, public works officials said, because the more extensive the treatment process the more volume is added to the sludge.
This past year the city was forced to ship its sludge to nearby communities, a practice that is more than twice as expensive as applying it to land. Public works officials anticipate the city will save $45,000 a year if Red Wing buys the Mt. Carmel property.
Deputy Director of Utilities Bob Stark said sludge can be applied to fields twice a year, in the spring and fall. He said it's injected below the ground's surface, a practice regulated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Stark said the earliest the city could apply sludge to the Mt. Carmel site would be next fall. Public works officials say they're not currently looking to build storage tanks at the site.
Some of the city's sludge is already applied to farms in Vasa and Hay Creek townships, according to city officials.
But Public Works Director Rick Moskwa said there's no guarantee those farms or neighboring communities will continue to accept Red Wing's sludge.
"This is our waste to manage," Moskwa said. "No other city is responsible for our waste."
Moskwa said Red Wing must deal with its sludge some way and applying sludge to farmland is an accepted method by the MPCA and the Environmental Protection Agency.
While the government says the practice is safe, some academics, environmental organizations and citizen groups have challenged that assertion.
Only a stop-gap?
When talking about sludge there's an important distinction between Class A biosolids and Class B biosolids.
According to the EPA, Class A biosolids contain no detectable pathogens, while Class B biosolids still contain detectible levels of pathogens, the application of which is more heavily regulated.
Red Wing produces Class B biosolids.
For this reason, city officials have set their sights on creating a new regional biosolids drying facility. A facility, they say, would produce class A biosolids which wouldn't be as voluminous and troublesome to dispose of.
The catch is that such a facility would cost anywhere from $4 million to $8 million depending on how ambitious the project is.
It's money city officials say they don't have, although they are pursuing state and federal funding and partnerships with other cities.
Moskwa said he hopes buying the Mt. Carmel property is only a stop-gap move until the city garners funding for a new facility.
"Everything we're doing is going toward that class A facility," he said. "But we have to manage (the city's sludge) in the interim."
See next Wednesday's edition of the R-E for more on the sludge issue as it develops, and background on the history of biosolids and how safe they are.