Benner Township supervisors review biosolids ordinance, table pending OAG decision

Benner Township supervisors tabled an ordinance designed to protect the health and environment of residents by providing uniform standards for the site application of sewage sludge and biosolids within the township.

The Benner Township Sewage and Biosolids Ordinance is intended to put the authority of regulating biosolids within the hands of the township.

However supervisors felt the ordinance, based on a similar Burnside Township ordinance, required further review.

Chairman David Wise had several concerns with the Benner Township ordinance, largely because its Burnside counterpart is under review by the Office of Attorney General to determine its constitutionality.

“It’s under review based on the Right to Farm Act and Act 38 — the Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment Act,” Wise said.

Wise said attorneys made it clear that the state has accepted regulated use of biosolids.

However, the Benner Township ordinance claims that the state Department of Environmental Protection does not presently possess adequate staff to ensure that those applying sewage sludge in the township meet federal and state standards.

Wise said he was troubled by this claim, but Planning Commission member and Benner resident Greg Jeffries said the statement is valid.

“We can back that up,” Jeffries said. “They said it themselves.”

At a Bellefonte Borough Council meeting in May, Mark Stephens, a geologist with the DEP , said that while biosolids application is heavily regulated, DEP has little oversight of biosolids sites and local authorities are responsible for maintaining DEP standards.

In attempt to prevent oversight of potential hazards, the ordinance further aims to authorize township testing and monitoring of land application and storage of sewage sludge within the township.

It would also aim to limit application of biosolids to those who have a valid permit approved by the DEP and hold a valid site registration in compliance with the ordinance.

However, Wise and Supervisor Mark Capriani said municipalities do not have the power to encumber state law.

“As a local political subdivision, we are not allowed to change that,” Wise said.

Supervisor Randy Moyer suggested tabling the ordinance until the Office of Attorney General makes a decision on the Burnside ordinance.

“I’m not for making an unconstitutional ordinance,” Moyer said. “One government entity suing another doesn’t make sense.”

Wise proposed forwarding the ordinance to their solicitor for review.

In the meantime, Capriani and Water Authority Chairman Tom Eby made plans to work together to protect the area’s source water.

Capriani said that a push for source water protection is a “reform that might actually pass” at the state level.

“I think the changes we really need are at the state level,” Capriani said.

Cate Hansberry: 814-235-3933, @catehans216