|Bedford sludge deal off|
BEDFORD – The Maryland-based company contracted to find sites for sludge from the Johnstown wastewater treatment plant has given up on old coalfields in Bedford County.
The application filed by Synagro on behalf of the Johnstown municipal authority with the state Department of Environmental Protection is no longer being considered.
The withdrawal by Synagro was confirmed by the Department of Environmental Protection.
“It has been withdrawn,” Karen Sitler, DEP spokeswoman from the Southcentral Regional office in Harrisburg, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Sitler said she was unable to say why the application was pulled back.
But officials from Broad Top Township, where the sludge could have gone, said the action came after Synagro received word that the landowners had changed their minds.
“I would assume the landowners must sign off and, while they had at an earlier time, they later told the township supervisors that they changed their minds,” Ernest Fuller, township secretary, said in a telephone interview from his Defiance office.
A spokesman for Synagro could not be reached for comment.
The Finleyville-area tract is owned by Dodson Brothers Lumber Co. and leased to Dash Coal Co. of Stoystown.
Supervisor Jack Decker said he spoke to Dodson family members, who told him they were no longer interested in an agreement with Synagro.
“They’re opposed to it. They’re concerned about the impact on the water,” Decker said in a telephone interview from his Broad Top home.
The proposal outlined in November called for the sludge, treated with limestone, to be trucked from the Johnstown plant to Bedford County to be used in reclaiming the abandoned coal mine site.
The sludge was to be applied to an estimated 200 acres in a remote section of the township.
The treatment plant handles waste from the City of Johnstown and 19 surrounding municipalities. It is the largest facility of its type between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
Estimates are that 90 to 100 tons of treated sludge need to be carted from the plant daily. Most is applied to farmlands in Armstrong County.
During the winter when the ground is frozen, the sludge is disposed of at Mostoller Landfill in Somerset County.
While the city has what plant operator Jeff Mulligan describes as “three or four” permitted – but unused – farm sites in Indiana County, the coal fields would have been more cost effective and convenient.
State regulations stipulate that the sludge be applied to farmland at a rate no greater than 20 dry tons per acre. The application rate for abandoned strip mines is as much as 60 tons per acre.
Officials estimate that statewide 2.2 million tons of sludge is generated annually. About half of that is applied to farmland and coalfields.
The benefits are that it provides the basis for a quick grass cover, especially at abandoned strip mines.
But using municipal sludge on farmland and coal fields is increasingly drawing fire after concerns have surfaced about the effects of pathogens from the waste on human health.
A group of West Providence Township residents are concerned because a township supervisor is allowing sludge from the Everett treatment plant to be applied to his farm fields.
The concern is forcing Bedford County Planning Commission into the fray.
The planners, who are in the midst of updating the county’s solid waste plan, agreed this week to address the issue.
“We recognize it as an area of concern,” said Jeffrey Kloss, planning commission executive director, in a telephone interview from his Bedford office.
The region and state are generating larger amounts of sludge, Kloss said.
The increase is attributed to a trend from on-lot sewage systems to municipal treatment plants.
This increase in volume is complicated by a growing reluctance from property owners to have it on their land. Kloss said the increase must be dealt with.
Just how sludge will be addressed in the solid waste plan is not yet determined, he said.
The plan is expected to be made final in summer 2004. Kloss offered assurances that the public will be able to participate through a series of meetings that year.
“We really have a fair amount of public discussion. We need to take a look at the needs,” he said.