Spicer Farms withdraws application to spread biosolids

Following a lawsuit filed by a Benner Township resident on April 7, Spicer Family Farms agreed to withdraw its application to spread biosolids on its land.

Renee Swancer, of Benner Township, filed the lawsuit demanding Spicer Farms cease its plan to apply biosolids — organic matter recycled from sewage and used to fertilize land — for fear of groundwater contamination.

However, some Benner Township residents are concerned about Bellefonte continuing to spread biosolids on the neighboring Shaffer farmland, which has spread biosolids for the past two years without contention.

Swancer questioned Bellefonte Borough Council on Monday regarding the borough’s joint sourcewater protection plan with Milesburg.

She said the report indicates that biosolids application poses the greatest threat to the Big Spring in the Zone 2 of protection; both Spicer and Shaffer farms are located in the area designated Zone 2.

According to the report, the sensitivity of a drinking water source is most critical in a groundwater source where the aquifer and geologic materials above are expected to provide some treatment of infiltrating water. By definition, there is a higher susceptibility of contamination by potential sources within Zones 1 and 2.

“We wonder if Bellefonte Authority fully explained to the Spicers what biosolids could do,” she said.

Within Zone 1 and Zone 2, the possible sources of contamination with the highest susceptibility ranking include a gas station, an airport and biosolids application, among others.

“Why would Bellefonte continue to spread biosolids on Shaffer farms? Why even risk the potential of contamination?” Swancer asked the council. “Why does Bellefonte not care about Benner Township’s water?”

Council members declined to comment, but council President Gay Dunne agreed to take Swancer’s remarks under consideration.

Robert Decker and Chuck Thompson, of Nittany Engineering & Associates, briefly addressed the questions about biosolids in their presentation on upgrades to the Bellefonte wastewater treatment plant.

“There have been rumors that the plant is not meeting effluent limits — that’s just not true,” Decker said. “(Superintendent) Bob (Cook) does a great job and the plant runs good.”

He said Bellefonte has been applying biosolids for 25 years.

“It saves a significant amount of money, as opposed to landfilling, but also is regulated very closely,” he said, “more closely than farmers spreading manure.”

Thompson said the facility continues to meet Class B biosolids regulations, a designation for treated sewage sludge that meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for land application as fertilizer.

However, Swancer said she was concerned because Class B biosolids are allowed to have certain detectable pathogens — and the borough’s treatment facility processes a large amount of biosolids from several areas, including Rockview state prison and Benner and College townships.

Thompson said the borough does bring in “quite a bit” of biosolids from other areas, but that is because other plants do not have the means to process their sludge.

Cate Hansberry: 814-235-3933, @catehans216