Benner Township residents warn Milesburg Authority of biosolids battle

The Milesburg Borough Water Authority heard complaints — and a warning — from Benner Township residents on Monday regarding the spreading of biosolids in the area.

Benner Township Water Authority member Tom Eby said Bellefonte’s decision to use biosolids could lead to a variety of hazards for the water system.

Bellefonte borough plans to begin spreading biosolids, treated sewer waste, on Spicer Family Farms this year. The borough has spread biosolids on Shaffer Farms for the past two years.

Benner Township residents have expressed their concerns to Bellefonte Borough Council, but with no effect.

“Our authority has become very much educated since the beginning of the year,” Eby said. “We came across this when we got a grant to do a (source water protection plan) from the state.”

Eby said Milesburg could be endangering its own source of water, as well as jeopardizing Benner Township’s water.

“We come into this to educate and advise,” Eby said.

Shirley Gryczyck, of Benner Township, reiterated that biosolids application is among the highest ranked sources of contamination, according to Bellefonte-Milesburg’s own source water protection plan.

Members of the Bellefonte council were on the technical team for this plan, although Chairman Paul Bartley said Milesburg was not involved in its preparation and merely adopted it.

Gryczyck said people from many disciplines were included on the team that concluded biosolids could be hazardous to the area’s source water, “and yet with all of that in place, they’ve allowed Shaffer to continue putting down biosolids and now have a DEP-approved permit for Spicer Farms.”

Gryczyck said the state Department of Environmental Protection’s regulations are relatively broad. For example, DEP tested at 20 random sites before approving Spicer Farms’ application, only looking at the average results.

Highly fractured bedrock at a shallow depth was identified at seven of those locations, meaning there is a higher chance for biosolids matter to seep into the bedrock — and therefore into the source water. DEP still issued the permit to spread biosolids on the land.

According to Gryczyck and other residents, following DEP’s regulations might not be enough to protect their water.

“(Bellefonte Water Authority Superintendent) Bob Cook is doing exactly what DEP is asking him to do,” John Kostes, of Benner Township, said. “It almost seems like the fight has to go to DEP.”

Residents also took issue with the lack of notification on Bellefonte’s part — although it was compliant with DEP standards.

When DEP issues a permit to spread biosolids, the only people who are required to be advised of it are those residents immediately bordering that area.

“Neighbors bordering the farm were notified, but nobody else was,” Bartley said.

Bartley said he was not aware that any of this was going on in Happy Valley until Renee Swancer, of Benner Township, reached out to him.

Swancer filed a lawsuit against Spicer Family Farms in an effort to halt the spreading of biosolids. The case is still in litigation.

Bartley said he recognized that there were a lot of variables left unanswered.

“If you do it the way it’s supposed to be, you’ll be OK (with spreading biosolids),” he said. “But who polices these things?”

Bartley said Centre County has seen issues with biosolids before.

In 1997, Bartley said, the Boggs Township water system was permanently contaminated as a result of biosolids being placed on their fields.

Bartley said the wells were contaminated with cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis.

While this parasite can be spread in several different ways, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking and recreational water is the most common way to spread it.

Bartley offered the case as an example of what mismanagement of biosolids can lead to.

“Everybody here is supposing. We actually experienced it,” he said. “…To my best recollection, (the biosolids spread in Boggs Township) came from the Bellefonte plant.”

With all the questions facing biosolids application, Bartley said he first assumed there was a miscommunication between Bellefonte’s sewer and water authorities — until he realized that they are “one and the same.”

“To me its hypocritical: on one side you have a source water protection plan that identifies this as a real potential problem,” he said. “And on the other side, they have this waste that they have to get rid of in some shape or form ... and putting it on the farms is probably the cheapest solution.”

Another issue is Bellefonte’s total control of the biosolids application process. DEP does not closely monitor the application once its been approved.

“They pay for it, they load it, they haul it, they spread it,” he said. “Who polices them to make sure it’s being done properly?”

Bartley and the board agreed that the issue requires further action.

“What we need to decide here as a board is what position we should take or need to take,” he said. “These folks have some legitimate concerns here.”

He said he’d like to touch base with legal counsel and Coca-Cola, another big player in the Big Spring, before taking an official position.

The Coca-Cola company owns a water-bottling facility in Howard, which receives its water from the Big Spring — the same source Bellefonte and Milesburg share.

According to the Milesburg authority, Coca-Cola is the biggest user of Big Spring water; it uses up to a million gallons per day, compared to Milesburg’s 250,000 gallons per day.

“Other than DEP, Coke probably has the most sway over Bellefonte,” Bartley said.

There will be a special meeting with the board, Coca-Cola representatives and legal counsel. The board also requested the presence of a Bellefonte sewer operator to provide clarification.

“In Milesburg, we have the most to lose,” Bartley said. “If it happened that the spring got contaminated, I’m not sure what we’re going to do.”

Cate Hansberry: 814-235-3933, @catehans216