PITTSFIELD TWP. — Forty-three property owners have filed an appeal with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, alleging that a permit granted to build a human waste storage lagoon on Quarry Road was granted under false pretenses.
The Pittsfield Township residents allege that French Creek BioEnergy LLC, the company that filed for a permit to dump class B sewage into a human-made pond in the middle of farmland, provided incorrect coordinates and misleading information to the Ohio EPA before the permit was approved. The appeal states that the company provided the Ohio EPA with a location approximately a half-mile from the lagoon’s true location and, because of that information, the lagoon doesn’t comply with EPA standards.
The manmade pond, which was approved Dec. 18, will contain up to 6 million gallons — enough to fill 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools — of treated sewage from Sheffield’s French Creek Wastewater Plant.
Ohio EPA spokesman Mike Settles and the Clemens Halene, chief operating officer for Quasar Energy Group, a Cleveland-based company working with the treatment facility, have said there are benefits to using a byproduct of sludge or treated human waste. Halene has said the byproduct can be used as fertilizer as it is rich in nutrients, and many local farmers are interested in the product.
According to Quasar’s website, French Creek BioEnergy has been awarded funding through the state as part of a grant program for projects using anaerobic digestion to convert feedstocks — such as municipal solid wastes, food and farm wastes and other biomass or waste materials — into electricity, heat, fuel and other biobased products. The program is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s State Energy Program.
But residents are not happy with the idea of a pool containing human waste near their backyards, according to Quarry Road resident Joyce Snyder, who lives approximately 300 yards from the sludge pond.
Snyder noticed the pond taking shape in November, but she initially believed that the pond was just an irrigation source for nearby farms. After learning that the pond would contain human waste, she went door to door, asking other residents to stand and fight against the facility.
Snyder found an ally in Jennifer Abram, a research and infection control nurse who lives in the area. Abram said she’s researched the French Creek Wastewater Plant, and she believes it will do more harm than good.
“All of that, literal human feces, will be overflowing into our yards,” she said.
The EPA has 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, but Abram believes the lagoon’s location, in what she called wetlands, would cause unwanted runoff of the sludge.
The appeal, filed by the residents’ attorney, Gerald Phillips, and Lorain County Assistant Prosecutor Gerald Innes lists 65 “errors” in claims made by French Creek BioEnergy when filing for a permit. The residents requested that the permit be revoked and declared void due to the “errors,” and if it is not revoked, the appeal asks that the permit be modified in accordance with the list of errors.
According to the appeal, “wetlands will be disturbed and have been disturbed during construction including a nearby vernal pond, although the Permit To Install/Plan Approval Application blatantly incorrectly recklessly and misleadingly states there are no wetlands.”
The appeal also alleges that the permit was approved with defective plans from the company to prevent spillage of biosolids, with “construction defects,” including cracks and holes in the berms of the lagoon and against Ohio EPA requirements for seepage and permeability of the soil.
Residents said they were kept in the dark during the construction of the lagoon, and Snyder said she was misled by the property owner.
“We were told by the farmer that he was improving his farmland,” she said.
Now, Snyder, Abram and approximately 150 residents are asking Pittsfield Township trustees to approve a moratorium to stop operations at the treatment facility.
The zoning inspector already has issued a cease-and-desist order to French Creek BioEnergy LLC from operating the lagoon, as it is not a permitted use by the zoning code, according to an email from Phillips.
More than 100 residents stormed the Township Hall on Jan. 7, asking trustees to issue a six-month moratorium against the use of any permits pertaining to the operating of the lagoon facilities. Phillips said the residents will again ask the trustees to consider the recommendation during a meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
“The township trustees will have to either s— or get off the pot as far as the moratorium on Monday,” he said. “The residents are outraged that the moratorium has not been approved. S— will hit the fan on Monday.”
Township Trustee Mark Diedrick said in a December interview that trustees were trying to determine if the lagoon could go in based on zoning, but he said trustees were against the idea of the sludge pond.
Abram said similar treatment facilities are being considered at other locations in Ohio.
“If it happens to us, it can happen to anyone,” she said.
She added that if she has anything to do with it, operations at the treatment plan will not continue as planned.
Representatives at Quasar and French Creek BioEnergy LCC could not be reached for comment Saturday night.