Benner Township residents disapprove of biosolid application near well

Benner Township residents took center stage at a supervisors meeting Monday to express concern over biosolid application to Spicer Family Farms.

Biosolids are organic matter recycled from sewage. The farm is located about a half mile away from Grove Park, a drinking water well, which prompted residents to speak against the practice.

Benner Township supervisors, however, don’t have the authority to put a stop to it. Chairman David Wise said supervisors would pass the residents’ comments on to the Bellefonte Borough Authority and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The Bellefonte authority would supply biosolids to the farm, which contacted the borough for the waste. The borough received approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection Feb. 29, and residents have until March 29 to appeal DEP’s permit.

The practice, according to borough and township staff, has been going on for years. The alternative, borough Manager Ralph Stewart said, would be to pay for the biosolids to be put in a landfill.

“I have gotten permits for three farms in the six years I’ve been here,” Bellefonte plant superintendent Bob Cook said. “DEP was at the farm site, and they’re well aware of what’s here.”

Residents, however, are concerned that the biosolids could contaminate their water supply. Some said they did not want to be the next Flint, Mich.

“I don’t want to put my children at risk over this,” one man, who did not identify himself, said.

Benner Water Authority member Tom Eby also weighed in.

“We are concerned about it, and I don’t think there’s any guarantee that Bellefonte or anyone can make that nothing will happen,” Eby said. “Is it worth the chance?”

Centre County Planning Director Robert Jacobs sent a Feb. 26 letter to DEP on the matter.

“It was not something to say we are for or against it,” Jacobs said. “It’s regular for us to provide comment on things like this. We do the same thing for drilling.”

The farm plans to apply biosolids to 112 acres of its 215 acres of farmland, with exclusions to comply with United States Environmental Protection Agency regulations, according to Jacobs.

Jacobs recommended that the borough should notify the Benner Water Authority and Benner Township at least 10 days before biosolids are applied. He said the borough and Benner Water Authority should test water at Grove Park Well before biosolid application and continue tests on a quarterly basis for the duration of the permit. He also said test samples that document the composition of coliform and metal contaminants should be provided to Benner Township and the authority at least 10 days before every application.

Jacobs also asked for documentation on “existing geological conditions that would naturally prevent the flow of water infiltrating through the application site towards the Benner Township drinking water wells.”

Appeals can be made to DEP’s Environmental Hearing Board at the Rachel Carson State Office Building, 400 Market St., P.O. Box 8457 in Harrisburg.

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli