Bellefonte

Judge rules to postpone application of biosolids on Spicer Farms

Benner Township residents oppose the application of biosolids by the Bellefonte Authority, particularly on Spicer Family farmland. Residents are concerned about health hazards and decreased property values.
Benner Township residents oppose the application of biosolids by the Bellefonte Authority, particularly on Spicer Family farmland. Residents are concerned about health hazards and decreased property values. chansberry@centredaily.com

Benner Township residents and Bellefonte borough reached a tentative — and temporary — agreement in the case of spreading biosolids in the township.

In hearing Monday before county Judge Jonathan D. Grine, the borough agreed to refrain from spreading biosolids on the Spicer family farmland pending the outcome of Swancer v. Spicer Family Farms and Bellefonte Borough Authority.

Plaintiff Renee Swancer filed a civil lawsuit in April against Spicer Family Farms in an effort to cease the proposed spreading of biosolids on the farmland.

She and other Benner Township residents are fighting Bellefonte’s decision to apply the Class B biosolids, a term for treated municipal sewage sludge.

Counsel representing Bellefonte said the Borough Authority chose not to go through with the planned first round of application at the end of May. She said the borough offered to hold off application until a decision has been made. Counsel for the plaintiff, David Gaines, of Miller, Kistler and Campbell law firm, agreed.

Grine ruled that no biosolids are to be applied on Spicer land until a resolution is reached.

In a statement released after the hearing, the borough stated that it “willingly and voluntarily offered to forgo applying biosolids” and wants to maintain its “outstanding relationship with its municipal and authority representatives.”

During the hearing, counselors argued a motion for dismissal.

Jim Bryant, of Bryant and Cantorna, represented the Spicer Family Farms.

“This is a ‘Chicken Little’ lawsuit,” Bryant said, referring to the folk tale of a chicken that believes the sky is falling. “State legislation has recognized that ‘Chicken Little’ lawsuits are a pain in the neck. That’s why they enacted the Right to Farm Act.”

Right to farm laws in the United States deny nuisance lawsuits against farmers who use accepted and standard farming practices and have been in prior operation even if these practices harm or bother adjacent property owners or the general public.

Bryant said Pennsylvania’s laws state one cannot blame an action — such as biosolids application — for a public or private nuisance for a longstanding farm.

“We can end up basically putting the Spicers out of business (by prohibiting biosolids) — but they have had a state agency look at this and pronounce it OK,” he said.

However, Gaines responded that it’s important to look at the language of the Right to Farm Act, brought into consideration by opposing counsel. Bryant argued that spreading biosolids is equivalent to using “fertilizer,” an accepted long-standing practice.

“We have a complaint about Class B biosolids — not fertilizer — as it pertains to Ms. Swancer’s property,” Gaines said. “These conditions very clearly have not been in existence since the beginning.”

Gaines said that while counsel may argue that fertilizer has been in use for many years, “this is very different from fertilizer.” He said his client’s orders are specifically written to address Class B biosolids.

“As far as the Right to Farm Act goes, it does not apply,” he said.

Gaines moved to call an expert witness to testify, but testimony was reserved until further hearings. The case will continue.

Cate Hansberry: 814-235-3933, @catehans216

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