Field as biosolids site worries neighbors

FREDERICA — Kent County’s purchase of a Frederica-area field to use for spreading waste has angered some residents, who question the plan and argue it will diminish quality of life and possibly land values.

However, county and state officials said the property will be used infrequently to spread biosolids and neighbors need not worry.

Biosolids are nutrient-rich organic materials that result from the treatment of domestic sewage.

At issue is the old Vineyard Farm off Carpenters Bridge Road. The field, located near two tributaries to the Murderkill River, sits across the street from a 55-plus community and adjacent to other farms. Browns Branch and Ash Gut run past Frederica and terminate a few miles south of the town.

The county purchased the land in 2013, paying $1.325 million from its Sewer Fund for the 148-acre property. By law, Kent County cannot pay more than what its appraiser values the land at.

The property originally had been set up for private development, but after the plans fell through, the county bought the land. Now in Kent County’s control, the field will be kept permanently free of construction, said

Kent County Public Works director Andrew Jakubowitch.

One of the benefits of county ownership, is the county can use it to receive Class B biosolids in an emergency.

William Moffett of Frederica is concerned property values will decline if Kent County spreads biosolids on the field next to his property. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

William Moffett of Frederica is concerned property values will decline if Kent County spreads biosolids on the field next to his property. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Class B biosolids contain “detectible” levels of pathogens.

Although the county has said the field rarely would be used for biosolid disposal, some nearby residents have reservations. They’ve shared their fears at public meetings organized by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, including one held last month at Lake Forest East Elementary.

DNREC is required to send letters notifying individuals living adjacent to land that potentially will be used for Class B biosolids.

Neighbors concerned

William Moffett, whose land is next to the field, thinks the county’s purchase will drive down property values.

“I just wanted to get some people active because the people across the street, the people in the 55-and-over (community), they’re not going to be for it,” he said.

He’s also worried about potential odor and pathogens.

One of his neighbors is frustrated as well.

“It is a devaluation of my property,” said Thomas Webb, who owns a farm between Mr. Moffett’s land and a tributary of the Murderkill. “Even though we don’t have an ounce of sludge on the farm, it’s cut the value because we can have flash floods any time and the county, with their present way of applying this, are not protecting me.”

The deal was approved by Levy Court.

Kent currently leases the field to farmers.

A tractor applies Class B biosolids in a field. (Submitted photo/Andrew Jakubowitch)

A tractor applies Class B biosolids in a field. (Submitted photo/Andrew Jakubowitch)

Officials have said they primarily wanted the field for land conservation. The county government aims to hold reforestation projects on the field, with the goal of improving water quality for the nearby river. The Murderkill is designated as impaired, meaning its waters do not meet the standards for industrial and recreational uses.

Reforestation would allow the county to gain credits for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program, which regulates discharge from municipal and industrial facilities into water sources.

As a side benefit of purchasing the land, the county can use it to spread Class B biosolids in an emergency.

From waste to biosolids

There are two types of biosolids, Class A and Class B. Both have been treated, but those in the Class B category contain “detectible” levels of pathogens, while Class A do not, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Class B biosolids have limits on use, such as buffer zones and crop restrictions, and anyone spreading them in Delaware must have a permit from DNREC.

“A and B are equally fine provided additional safeguards are in place for Class B,” DNREC environmental scientist Brian Churchill said.

The Class B biosolids category of treated waste resemble dirt. (Submitted photo/Andrew Jakubowitch)

The Class B biosolids category of treated waste resemble dirt. (Submitted photo/Andrew Jakubowitch)

DNREC restricts access to areas where Class B biosolids are spread, preventing people from spending a prolonged period of time on affected land.

Class A biosolids essentially are manure, the kind used by almost every farm, Mr. Churchill said.

Biosolids are made by the county at its wastewater treatment plant in Frederica, where material flushed into the sewers is sorted to remove manmade elements that do not break down. That goes to a landfill, while the waste is treated to reduce pathogens. It becomes a fine, dirtlike material at that point, with a significantly reduced odor.

The biosolids are dried, and, if Class A, go through a second treatment.

Kent County submitted its application almost exactly one year ago and is currently in the process to receive a permit, which would enable it to spread Class B waste on the old Vineyard Farm.

The county has applied the biosolids on three occasions in the past decade, according to Mr. Churchill.

Because of the limitations that come with Class B material, “it’s not a product Kent County ever wants to produce,” Mr. Churchill said.

The county has said it only would spread Class B biosolids if there was a major part failure, such as an oven used to dry biosolids experiencing an oil leak. Such an accident at the wastewater plant could prevent pathogens from being removed.

That’s happened just a few times, Mr. Jakubowitch said, at which point biosolids were spread at the county’s two current sites, each of which comprises several fields.

“In the rare occurrence that we have a significant event at the wastewater plant and we have such an amount we couldn’t spread it at the other two locations, we would come to the third location, which is the Vineyard Farm,” he said.

Using biosolids

Once spread on a field, Class B biosolids can dry within a few hours. According to Mr. Churchill, they have less of an impact than chicken manure. Biosolids, which contain phosphate and nitrogen, only can be applied in limited amounts.

Once water is removed, Class B biosolids are further treated at a wastewater plant. (Submitted photo/Andrew Jakubowitch)

Once water is removed, Class B biosolids are further treated at a wastewater plant. (Submitted photo/Andrew Jakubowitch)

The material cannot put more nutrients into the soil than can be subsequently removed by crops, Mr. Churchill said.

As a precaution, those crops initially grown in a field with biosolids are used only for animal, not human, consumption.

While the county intends to use the new property largely for conservation and water quality remediation, it’s of sufficient size for both reforestation and spreading biosolids if need be, Mr. Jakubowitch said.

Neighbors Moffett, Webb and about a half-dozen other concerned residents attended the October public meeting but remain unsatisfied.

Mr. Webb said he thinks the county should develop the land, since it is in a designated growth zone.

Both Mr. Jakubowitch and Mr. Churchill acknowledged they’ve heard complaints and questions from Kent Countians. Some of those fears, they say, have been addressed, such as the false worry that raw sludge would be placed on the field. Nonetheless, at least a few residents remain upset over what they see as potential environmental hazards and about their property values potentially being affected.

“They just were not happy with having anything that came with a wastewater plant being spread on the fields,” Mr. Jakubowitch said.

He doesn’t know if property values would be affected, but said no laws require a homeowner selling property to inform potential buyers of the field.

Mr. Jakubowitch also said biosolids would be spread on rare occasions and not in large amounts.

Additionally, buffer zones between the field and other properties would be designed to prevent runoff into land owned by others, as well as waterways.

DNREC also monitors the situation, especially the groundwater, to ensure land and water aren’t contaminated.

The process is ongoing and DNREC likely will schedule another hearing within a few months, at which point people could share their opinions again.

While some residents were afraid it was a “done deal,” Mr. Jakubowitch said, the agency still has to decide whether to avoid the permit or not. That decision will be based in large part on citizen input.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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