|City to purchase tract to spray sewer sludge|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Mike Anderson|
|Thursday, 21 June 2012 15:13|
The closed Steel Bridge landfill has worried nearby residents for years because of contaminants that monitoring wells have detected at the site since it was shut down some 15 or so years ago. Now, those neighbors are facing a new threat to their peace of mind, if not their health.
The Macclenny City Commission, after listening to concerns and objections voiced by residents on the evening of June 12, moved forward with a $550,000 plan to buy 114 acres of pine forest in a sparsely-populated area off Steel Bridge Road as a place to dump millions of gallons of sewage wastewater “sludge” yearly.
Up to 50,000 gallons of the slushy, mud-like material would be trucked to the site each week and sprayed on the ground as fertilizer. Last year, the city produced nearly 3 million gallons of liquid sludge.
Frank Darabi, the city’s consulting engineer, said the material is an organic fertilizer containing phosphorous and nitrogen, and free of pathogens and metals that have been removed in the wastewater treatment process at the city’s sewage plant.
“There will be no surface runoff going to anybody’s property and no odor,” Mr. Darabi said. “If there is no odor at the sewer plant there will not be an odor out there.”
He said the city’s wastewater plant treats sewage “almost to drinking water standards” before discharging it into Turkey Creek, which feeds into the St. Mary’s River. Liquid sludge, the remaining by-product material, is just as harmless as the treated effluent that goes into the river, he contends.
“It’s nutrients. You can grow hay on it,” the engineer said. His assuring words were little comfort, however, to those in the audience who live or own property near the proposed sludge disposal site.
“We’re against this thing,” said Larry Sigers, who said he has grown children who live on the edge of the proposed disposal site. He said his greatest concern is the possibility of the sludge spreading to surrounding properties underground.
Landen Sigers, whose property backs up to the 114-acre parcel owned by Rayonier, said he has a 7-year-old son and another child on the way and he doesn’t want them playing in a yard next to a sludge site. He said they already live in fear that the old county dump nearby may be endangering their health.
“We’re not wanting it there,” he said. “Everybody around it is just scared to death of it.”
Tests at the former landfill last year revealed high levels of iron, but acceptable levels of benzene and arsenic, which two years ago had been detected at concentrations higher than federal and state environmental standards.
Mr. Darabi, who also works for the county and has done extensive testing at the old landfill, said contaminants found at the former dump site do not pose a public health hazard. He said they have not spread beyond its boundaries and aren’t likely to do so.
The engineer further noted that the proposed sludge disposal site would have a 200-foot conservation buffer around the perimeter and all sludge would be deposited on interior acreage far from the nearest residences. He further said nearby wells could be tested before the first load of sludge is dumped and periodically afterward.
He noted, however, that there would be no way to prove that coliform bacteria found in anyone’s water well came from the sludge site because property owners have septic tanks and drain fields much closer to their own wells.
Before the commission voted on the proposal, some audience members said they thought the hearing meant nothing because commissioners already had decided to approve the land purchase.
“The surveyors were out there today, so it looks like you’ve already got your minds made up,” Larry Sigers said.
City Manager Gerald Dopson said if surveyors were on the property that day they “weren’t working for the city.”
“They said they were,” Mr. Sigers replied.
Mayor Gary Dopson denied that members of the commission had come to the meeting with their mind already set on approving the deal.
“If we came here with our minds already made up we wouldn’t be having this hearing,” the mayor said.
Finally, after discussing the issue for an hour and a half, the commission voted 5-0 to authorize the city manager to initiate a loan agreement with American Enterprise Bank to borrow $550,000, which will include the $470,000 purchase price, closing costs and other expenses related to engineering, perimeter fencing and obtaining necessary state and federal permits.
The loan is contingent on engineering assessments determining that the property is suitable for the intended purpose. Mr. Darabi said he’s relatively certain the land will be suitable because it’s on high ground and has a sufficiently deep top layer of sand needed for percolation.
City Manager Dopson said surrounding property owners will not be endangered by the sludge field because it’s not a harmful product.
“It’s a fertilizer program that’s regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection,” he said.
Other sites throughout the county have been considered in the past year or two but have been rejected mainly because the soil was not suitable.
The city has leased farmland off Crews Road north of Glen St. Mary for its sludge disposal program for years, paying tens of thousands of dollars annually to the owner. But city officials said they became concerned when the owner started allowing other entities to dump their wastewater on the property a couple of years ago.
Owning and managing its own site would enable the city to control the quantity and quality of the material dumped there, to ensure that it continues to meet state environmental standards, the city manager said.
“I’m convinced that we could be a very responsible neighbor and make certain that what we do will not impact the neighbors,” he said.
Commissioner Phil Rhoden, who made the motion to approve the land purchase and move forward with site testing, said he trusted the engineer and was satisfied that the proposal would be beneficial to the city.
“If he’s wrong he’s not going to be retained by the city,” Mr. Rhoden said. “But I have complete confidence in our engineer. We‘re telling him to proceed with tests to determine the feasibility. We‘re not trying to dump something on anybody.”
In other business, the commission:
• Authorized Mr. Darabi to draft bid documents for proposals from private companies interested in taking over garbage collection for the city.
Mr. Darabi said bids should include a requirement that any price be good for at least five years to prevent any bidder from submitting a low price initially and then trying to jack it up substantially after the first year. He also said companies should be encouraged to hire the current sanitation workers.
• Approved an agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation for the state to pay the city $40,800 a year in exchange for the city maintaining the right-of-way on state-maintained roads, including SR 121, SR 228 and US 90.
• Ordered the condemnation of a mobile home at 59 S. Lowder St. owned by Aubrey Hines. The owner will be responsible for hiring a contractor to demolish the structure.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 21 June 2012 15:27|