September 18, 2014

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Pittsfield Township residents oppose waste pond

PITTSFIELD TWP. — Residents in Pittsfield Township are learning the lagoon being built in the middle of farmland near Quarry Road is not the quaint irrigation pond that they had envisioned.

Instead, the manmade pond will contain up to 6 million gallons — enough to fill 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools —  of treated sewage from the French Creek Wastewater Plant.

A Cleveland-based company has obtained a permit from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to put in a bio-waste storage lagoon, but residents are stinking mad about the prospect of liquid sewage being so close to their homes.

“We were prepared, at most, for a housing development to go in behind us, but never sewage,” said Quarry Road resident Joyce Snyder. “This is not something we want in our backyard.”

Snyder said she first noticed the pond taking shape in November. However, she thought it was just an irrigation source for nearby farm fields. She learned she was wrong more than a week ago when after doing some research she discovered Quasar Energy Group and the French Creek Wastewater Plant, operating as French Creek BioEnergy LLC, obtained a permit to dump class B sewage into the pond.

“It’s still crap,” Snyder said. “We are talking human sewage here, because that’s what goes through a wastewater plant.”

Mike Settles, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said the permit was granted earlier this month after a detailed plan was submitted explaining how the storage lagoon would operate and what steps would be taken to ensure it does not pose any health or environmental concerns to the area. Since then, a number of residents opposed to the idea have called to complain, but from the standpoint of the state agency, everything has been done to rightfully obtain the permit.

“There are a number of concerns we are hearing from the possibility of increased truck traffic, the impact on roads, proper zoning and the impact on property values, but all of those fall outside the authority of the Ohio EPA. They must be taken up through other agencies or on the local level,” he said. “We are here to ensure health and environmental concerns and should this storage lagoon pose either we will step in and take action.”

Settles said there is an appeal process residents can pursue through the Environmental Review Appeals Commission.

Snyder, who has lived on Quarry Road with her husband, John, since 2007, said that is exactly what residents are planning to do.

“People think I’m fighting (against) the devaluation of my home, but I’m fighting for the health of my family and the families around me,” she said. “You can’t just tell me that the sludge is being treated, and everything is OK. Anyone who has dealt with that kind of stuff knows what we are dealing with.”

Snyder estimates the lagoon will be roughly 300 yards from her home.

“If it goes in here, what’s stopping this from happening in other parts of the county or for them to turn that entire field into one big lake?” she said.

Flo Brewer, a longtime resident of Quarry Road, said she is prepared to do whatever is necessary to stop the lagoon, even if that means getting an attorney to file an injunction.

“I’m fighting it tooth and nail,” she said. “I don’t want it. No one wants it here.”

Brewer estimates she lives several hundred yards from the lagoon but can only imagine it will seem like it is much closer when the odor eventually drifts her way.

“Can you imagine having that in your backyard?” she said. “This is the same stuff that is in outhouses, and there is a reason we banned having outhouses.”

Township Trustee Mark Diedrick said the lagoon was brought to the attention of township trustees roughly three weeks ago.

“This is something new to us, and we have never had anything like this come into the area. It’s human waste,” he said.

Diedrick said trustees are trying to determine if the lagoon can actually go in based on zoning.

“The site they are putting this in is zoned residential-agricultural, and they are trying to tell us it is not a commercial business,” he said. “But we are saying it is a commercial business because it’s being trucked in from the wastewater plant and will be trucked out to farmers. It’s not like it’s being made or produced there and, frankly, we do not want it there.”

However, Clemens Halene, chief operating officer with Quasar, said the science behind the pond and how the sludge is used is not new and is very beneficial to the environment.

Wastewater treatment plants across the country have to dispose of the sludge that is produced by the facilities. Basically, those facilities have two choices — spend thousands to have it trucked to landfills or spend thousands installing incinerators.

However, renewable energy science makes it possible for companies like Quasar to place digesters at treatment facilities to directly take the sludge as it is produced. That is the case at the French Creek facility, where Quasar built a digester at a cost of $3.5 million earlier this year.

It is saving the city of North Ridgeville thousands of dollars by giving them an alternative for their sludge, he said.

The sludge, which Halene described as food waste and biological solids, is then placed into the digester and broken down further. Methane gas is released during the process and captured to be used as energy.

The byproduct is an excellent fertilizer and is highly sought after by farmers.

“The farmers in this area want it and are very interested in it,” Halene said. “The end product can go on the fields because it is very rich in nutrients and enriches the soil.”

But Linda Harris, who has lived on a nearly 100-acre family farm on Quarry Road all her life, said she would never want the sludge for her fields. She lives within viewing distance of the pond.

“I would take cow manure any day over that stuff,” she said. “I’m open to new things. Anything that is proven beneficial to the land is one thing, but there is nothing this company has explained to us to convince us this is good for us.”

Harris said unless residents say something, the pond will set a precedent that could be repeated all over the county.

“To take human waste byproducts and break them down with more chemicals is something that should not be taken lightly,” she said.

Settles said the EPA has very strict guidelines about when the biowaste fertilizer can be placed on fields to ensure it is properly absorbed into the soil and does not run off into water supplies.

“In the winter months, this stuff can no longer be land applied because the ground is snow-covered and frozen,” he said. “It has to be stored, and that is where a storage lagoon, like the one being discussed, comes into play.”

Halene said farmers typically use the fertilizer once in the spring and again in the fall.

He doesn’t dispute that residents who are unfamiliar with the idea will have concerns but said it is a very normal practice.

“And, there are basically no health concerns,” he said. “In the U.S., there are very stringent rules about how to build storage lagoons and how the byproduct can be stored. In the warmer months, we were able to apply it on several fields in the area directly from the French Creek facility. Now that we can’t, we need to have storage.”

Halene said Quasar has similar lagoons in Columbus, Wooster and Zanesville.

Settles said some of the conditions that accompany the permit include requiring fencing and signage around the site, having compacted clay be used around the sides and bottom of the pond to keep the liquid from leaking out as well as having a berm built around the entire area.

There is also a nuisance odor caveat that says all odors should be kept to a minimum as to not pose a nuisance to the area.

“But residents should know that like any agricultural area, there will be an odor, but it can’t have nuisance odor,” he said. “If the odor rises to the level of being a nuisance, the company will have to take immediate remediation action.”

Halene said monitoring will be done to keep down odors, and it should not be any more noxious that a typical dairy farm.

Right now, nothing is coming to the lagoon, but Halene said the first trucks should arrive toward the end of January and beginning of February.

That does not give residents a lot of time, but Snyder said they are getting organized.

“We are not going to just let this happen to our community without saying anything,” she said. “No matter what they say, this is still a pond of crap they are putting in our backyards.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.