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New Kent County residents start petition, asking for denial of sludge permit

By Amy Jo Martin, amartin@tidewaterreview.com

4:00 PM EDT, August 5, 2014

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NEW KENT — New Kent County residents are taking action against a proposed industrial sludge permit.

“New Kent County is 100 percent dependent on groundwater, and there is some chance that not all of it will be filtered,” said Andrea Ebbs, president of Five Lakes subdivision and one of the originators of the Deny Synagro LLC Permit petition.

Synagro Technologies, the largest processor of sewage sludge in the U.S., is proposing to apply industrial residuals, or sludge, to 16,713 acres of forestland and farmland in seven counties: New Kent, King William, King and Queen, Goochland, Prince George, Surry and Hanover.

According to New Kent County Administrator Rodney Hathaway, if the permit is approved, Synagro would spread sludge on a 1,200-acre Lanexa farm that sits on the Pamunkey River.

Hathaway said that although the county will not receive anything from Synagro in return for using the private farm for sludge disposal, the property x owner most likely has a financial deal worked out with the company.

As of Tuesday morning, 62 people had signed the petition, more than half of the 100-signature goal.

According to Ebbs, the petition will be sent to the Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia State Water Control Board to (SWCB) encourage the proposal be denied. A copy of the petition will also be sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, asking that he instruct the DEQ and the SWCB to deny the sludge proposal.

Bill Hayden, of the DEQ Office of Public Affairs, said in a phone interview Tuesday although the petition requests that the DEQ deny the permit, the SWCB will make the final decision.

“DEQ wrote the original proposed permit and will give the SWCB a summary of the citizens' concerns and the agency's response,” he said.

Though the SWCB was set to vote on Synagro's application in July, it was postponed because of an onslaught of public opinion.

The next SWCB meeting will be held on Sept. 29. Hayden estimates that the agenda will be set in a few weeks.

The New Kent Board of Supervisors learned more about the permit application last week as the DEQ's deputy director of the Piedmont Regional Office, Kyle Winter, discussed it with the board.

However, it tabled a decision because supervisors wanted to hear from W.R. “Ray” Davis Jr., the board member most familiar with the sludge issue, according to board Chairman Thomas Evelyn.

The board is set to further discuss Synagro's proposal at its August meeting. The board and the DEQ do not have the power to deny the proposal, but can encourage the SWCB to turn it down.

“The board is concerned about the environmental impact it could have on the county,” Hathaway said in a phone interview Monday.

“Although Synagro says the sludge is regulated, we want to know how it's regulated.”

According to Winter, residents throughout the commonwealth have mainly expressed concerns about the health effects, materials used, odor, drinking water contamination and the effect sludge may have on wildlife. 

These were some of the concerns also raised by Dr. Robert Hale, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, at the board's July 30 work session.

“The first issue is respiratory health,” said Hale. “The second issue is the quality of life, and that's what a majority of our neighbors in King William are more concerned with.”

The proposed Synagro sludge would come from Smithfield Packing in Smithfield, Tyson Foods in Glen Allen, and the RockTenn paper mill in West Point.

Industrial residuals are produced by the treatment of wastewater and the result of a specific industrial process. In this case, it's the byproduct of chicken or hog slaughter and paper packaging.

This has local authorities and residents concerned, as the impact of sludge on local soil and water is unknown.

“Aren't you trying to protect the Chesapeake Bay?” asked New Kent Board of Supervisors member Tommy Tiller. “That's all DEQ has been talking about.”

Supervisor Ron Stiers also voiced his concern about the chemicals that the sludge could bring to the earth, including arsenic.

The New Kent Board of Supervisors is not the only local governing body to voice its concerns about industrial sludge.

King and Queen and King William counties, as well as the town of West Point, have already sent letters to the SWCB requesting that the permit be denied.

The Citizens Against Sludge, a newly formed group of concerned citizens throughout the commonwealth, also claim there are plenty of reasons the SWCB should not approve Synagro's permit application.

“We don't think you should spread this stuff around,” said Citizens Against Sludge creator John Davenport, of King William.

“We want to keep our environment and our residents from being harmed by the runoff.”

The King and Queen Board of Supervisors recently submitted a 24-page letter to the DEQ that addressed the shortcomings in the agency's regulations and monitoring of industrial sludge.

“Simply put, the commonwealth has never created the necessary regulatory and monitoring framework to support land application of industrial sludge,” the board said.

“Industrial sludge (contains) blood, feathers, skin, offal, fat, tissue, chemicals and heavy metals, and receive little, if any, treatment,” the board added.

“It is imprudent, unsafe and frankly negligent to approve the permit in King and Queen County because of the nature, topography, water courses, vast RPA/RMA features and the presence and daily use of thousands of wells.”

The New Kent Board of Supervisors will meet on Aug. 11 starting at 6 p.m. in the county administration boardroom to discuss the sludge permit.

The Deny Synagro LLC Permit petition can be reviewed and signed at http://chn.ge/1ooyx3v.

Hathaway is encouraging residents to attend the Aug. 11 board meeting and to speak during the public comment period about their concerns related to sludge.

Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.