Benner Township residents turn to supervisors for help

In another attempt to discontinue the practice of spreading biosolids in Benner Township, community members went to the township supervisors Monday with a plea to protect their water.

Despite protests and a lawsuit from Benner Township residents, Bellefonte plans to begin spreading biosolids on Spicer Family Farms this year. The borough has spread biosolids on Shaffer Farms for the past two years.

However, residents are concerned because biosolids application is among the highest ranked sources of water contamination in the area containing Spicer and Shaffer farms, according to Bellefonte-Milesburg’s own source water protection plan.

Supervisor Mark Capriani said the fact that Bellefonte is violating its own protection plan is a serious concern.

“They clearly saw the risk and called it out as a risk in their own source water protection plan,” he said, “and I think we need to call that out.”

Capriani said although biosolids have been used to treat farmland for decades, he has doubts about the area’s ability to sustain biosolids application without contamination.

“When I look at the topography and geology in this area ... I’m very concerned about this particular location and its suitability for this program,” he said.

Some residents asked the board to file an injunction to stop the spreading of biosolids, but Chairman David Wise said that is a “group of stakeholders asking one arm of government to sue another arm of government.”

Wise said the board has no interest in taking taxpayer money to litigate this issue.

“We are not going to create an injunction for anybody,” Wise said. “Benner Township is not going to sue Bellefonte.”

Wise said the board has limited ability to stop the spread of biosolids. Under an agreement signed in 1976, Wise said, Bellefonte has total control over the sewage that comes from the Spring Benner Walker Joint Authority.

“Our hands are tied,” Capriani said. “We have no say. All of our effluent goes to Bellefonte and they do as they wish.”

However, Capriani said the board is taking the issue “very seriously.”

“We need to find the best way to do this,” he said. “We’re committed to finding the best way to do this.”

Not all residents were convinced of the supervisors’ commitment to their cause.

“I’m feeling a lot of wishy-washy here. ... It sounds like you’re all not quite on our side, like it’s too much work to help us,” said Chris Miller, of Benner Township. “We’d be more than happy to put forth the effort to help you. ... Your community’s begging.”

Melinda Conrad, of Benner Township, called on the board to protect the interests of all residents.

“By sitting back and doing nothing and passing the blame, you are effectively only representing one or two farmers ... while ignoring potential health hazards and financial impact this process could have on everyone else in the zones of impact,” she said.

Conrad said Benner Township residents have already tried to voice their concerns to Bellefonte, but have not been taken seriously.

“They’re not listening,” Conrad said. “They don’t care what their own people want. ... As long as nobody’s catching them, they’re fine with it.”

Capriani apologized that the residents felt unsupported, promising to take concrete steps to help them. He said he would reach out to state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and the Bellefonte Authority and council.

“I want you to know we’re on your side,” Capriani said. “In a lot of ways our hands are tied, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to help residents.”

Wise said the board is planning to talk to the Bellefonte Authority and continue work on Benner Township’s source water protection plan.

Wise said after hearing comments, he prepared a list of points to discuss with Bellefonte, including the cost to change biosolids from class B to class A; taking measure of the sludge that comes from outside Bellefonte; getting more visibility and representation in the process for Benner Township; and clarifying the disparity between Bellefonte’s actions and its source water protection plan.

“Those seem to be the next steps,” he said.

The Bellefonte Authority meets 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Bellefonte Municipal Building.

The authority is expected to respond to the Benner Township Water Authority’s letter from last week.

Cate Hansberry: 814-235-3933, @catehans216

Effect of biosolids on house market values

Melinda Conrad, of Benner Township, said the biosolids application has had an effect on real estate and property values in the township.

Conrad said she was contacted in the past month by the real estate agent who helped her and her husband purchase their home in the township.

“She wanted to talk about her growing concern about the use of biosolids so close to Grove Park,” Conrad said.

The real estate agent said Grove Park and similar areas in Benner Township have always been popular, but “she said she has recently had clients who were hesitant and even backed out of buying homes due to the potential contamination on the Spicer Farms.”

Greg Jeffries owns a home in Grove Park that he said he is unable to sell because of biosolids.

“The word is getting out to Realtors and potential homebuyers, and I know of at least two people who declined to make offers after hearing about the biosolids application,” Jeffries said.

“People hear biosolids and they don’t want to live here.”

Cate Hansberry