Burnside Township leaders to appeal state Department of Environmental Protection decision

crosenblum@centredaily.comMarch 11, 2014 

Burnside Township will appeal state approval of a plan to spread treated municipal sewage sludge, called biosolids, on a former mining site near Pine Glen.

At a recent township supervisors meeting, Chairman Jayson Harter and Vice Chairman Gerald Narehood voted to appeal a state Department of Environmental Protection ruling that gives WeCare Organics, of Jordan, N.Y., permission to apply biosolids for mine reclamation, said Wanda Guenot, the township secretary/treasurer.

Supervisor Robert Norbeck abstained due to health reasons.

DEP made its decision Feb. 28, despite township and local concerns since last fall that the biosolids would be within the official source water protection zone, about a mile away from a spring that supplies much of Pine Glen’s drinking water.

Local residents say they’re concerned about possible water pollution from any biosolids mixed into the mine site soil to neutralize acidity and promote vegetation. They also worry about noxious odors.

The township has 30 days from the date of DEP’s ruling to contest it. Guenot said that the town solicitor, David Gaines Jr., is preparing an appeal.

“At this point, he’s working on it, and we’ve given him the go-ahead to work on it,” Guenot said. “We’re still working on trying to do what we can.”

WeCare Organics requested a permit to transport treated biosolid material from New York and Canada and spread it on about 150 acres owned by Robert Confer, who lives elsewhere in Centre County. The company plans to use land belonging to local Grant Etters for a right-of-way.

DEP, in a letter to the township explaining its decision, said that it concluded WeCare’s proposal poses “no potential to impact groundwater or private/public water supplies.”

But several Pine Glen residents objected to the project, starting a petition campaign that collected about 75 signatures as of last week.

One opponent, Rachel Guenot, a daughter-in-law of Wanda Guenot and a township auditor, said she worries her family and others may lose safe drinking water.

“The bottom line, I’m not willing to risk that happening,” Rachel Guenot said.

Pine Glen’s water system serves about 300 people, according to its administrator, the Mountaintop Regional Water Authority.

Biosolids are the byproduct of sewage sludge treated and dried to remove all or most pathogens, chemicals and heavy metals.

On its website, WeCare Organics says it adheres to “strict compliance” with federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations governing biosolid use, and that biosolids recycling is “safe, (a) beneficial use and a ‘win-win’ for all.”

But last month, company biosolids on state game lands in Bell Township, Clearfield County, led residents to complain about odors in the woods and harvested deer that smelled rank when gutted.

Twenty years ago, an 11-year-old boy from Osceola Mills, Tony Behun, fell ill suddenly and died after riding his dirt bike across hills treated with biosolids. Critics of biosolids suspected the material caused his death, though no definitive link was established.

Doug Saylor, of Clarence, has worked for WeCare Organics for three years as a regional land manager finding biosolids sites. Those have included sites in Burnside Township, including one near remote State Line Road, he said.

Township supervisors could not be reached for comment.

Before joining WeCare Organics, Saylor said, he spent about 30 years with DEP, specializing in mine reclamation and biosolids use.

Saylor said the company will prepare biosolids on the Pine Glen site within a bermed area of 1 to 2 acres to prevent runoff. Biosolid material will be stored for no more than a week, he said, but most material will be mixed 8 to 9 inches into the ground immediately when it’s ready.

Hilly ground between the site and Pine Glen’s water should prevent any contamination, he said.

“The terrain would prevent anything that’s going to percolate down into the ground from reaching the water supply,” he said. “Topographically, underground, it would have to run uphill.”

Moreover, DEP will require the company to monitor Pine Glen’s water source and nearby streams, Saylor said.

Odor can be “a big issue” with biosolids, he acknowledged. But, he said, the company avoids humid, wet weather when applying biosolids and has procedures and equipment to mitigate any problems.

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