Township campaigns against sludge bill

November 25, 2002|BY RICHARD BELISLE

WAYNESBORO - Washington Township is campaigning against a state bill that would prevent municipalities from banning the dumping of treated sewer plant and septic tank sludge on farm fields.

The Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors is urging its members to fight the bill with letter-writing campaigns directed at state legislators.

The Washington Township Supervisors last week sent letters to State Sen. Terry Punt and Del. Patrick Fleagle, both R-Waynesboro, asking that the bill be defeated.


Punt is a sponsor of the bill and Fleagle supports it.

The bill, an amendment to the Pennsylvania Right to Farm law, passed in the Senate and is now in the House, Fleagle said.

The farm bill, last amended in 1992, protects the state's agricultural interests from nuisance suits and ordinances. It also directs municipalities to encourage farming.

Washington Township Manager Michael Christopher said last week the bill would "tie the hands of the supervisors." He argued that spreading treated human waste on farm fields is nontraditional farming and not the same as spreading animal manure.

"This needs more review," Christopher said.

The Peters Township Supervisors don't oppose the bill despite the fact a farm there has applied for permits to have treated sludge dumped on a 340-acre field.

Dennis R. and Larry W. Hissong, owners of Hissong Farmstead in Mercersburg, Pa., have signed a contract with Synagro Mid-Atlantic Inc. of Whiteford, Md., to spread sludge on their field on Rockdale Road once a year.

Residents in a nearby housing development are trying to stop the Hissongs. They worry that their wells will become polluted and are concerned about odors the sludge will generate.

Dennis Hissong said the odor from the sludge is no worse than that of manure.

Hissong said treated sludge is better fertilizer than cow manure.

The nitrates in it adhere to the soil better than chemical fertilizers and pose less of a threat to ground water, he said.

Licensed contractors like Synagro test the soils and spread the sludge, Hissong said.

"It will save us from $80 to $150 an acre," he said.

The residents took their fight to the Peters Township Supervisors this month. They were told the township has no authority in the matter, Supervisors Chairman John C. Brake said.

"Personally, if I lived across the road from this I would have questions too," Brake said. "But as a township supervisor I have to abide by the state law and by the advice of the township's attorney."

Under Senate Bill 1413, municipalities would be subject to attorney fees and court costs if they lose suits filed against by farmers who charge them with violations of the right-to-farm law.

Brake said he doesn't know what further action the residents are planning. He suggested they contact the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which issues permits to spread sludge.

Thomas Sweeney Jr., DEP spokesman in Harrisburg, said his office covers South Central Pennsylvania. He said more than 500 farmers in that region - including a couple of dozen in Franklin County - have permits to spread treated sludge on their fields.

The regulations have been in effect for more than 20 years, Sweeney said.

"It's been done safely for a long while," he said. "Pennsylvania feels that it's a safe way to recycle the nutrients."

The only other disposal methods are incinerating it or dumping it in landfills, he said.

Only companies with permits from the Department of Environmental Protection, such as Synagro, are allowed to spread the sludge, Sweeney said. He said department investigators regularly monitor and inspect the contractors to ensure they meet state standards.

Fleagle said his biggest concern is protecting Franklin County's agricultural industry.

"For farmers to be viable today they have to have bigger and bigger farms, and as more development encroaches on them battles like this will heat up," Fleagle said.

"This is an issue in Franklin that isn't going away," he said. "It's finally coming to a head."

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