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By DAN McFARLAND
"Good idea, but not here" is the general response of a group of Orange County homeowners to a proposal to apply treated sewage to farm fields near their homes.
At the request of the Lake of the Woods Association, staff members of the state Department of Environmental Quality spoke at a town hall meeting earlier this week. Their purpose: to answer questions and respond to concerns about a permit modification allowing a Remington company to apply biosolids--treated sewage sludge used as fertilizer--to agricultural fields abutting about a half-dozen occupied lots on Rapidan Road, the only area of the subdivision on the north side of State Route 3.
Resident Mark Nowacki said he lives "little more than a football field away" from the proposed application site and is strongly opposed to the plan.
"It is repulsive," he said. "I don't want to be exposed to that foul odor. That affects the sanctuary of my home, my personal space."
Neighbor Rob Yarrow agreed. He pointed out that his home, like others in the area, was on a well and septic system, and that his son has chronic health issues.
Ed Stuart, water compliance manager for the DEQ's Northern Region, explained that the commonwealth's biosolids approach had transitioned in the last decade or so from disposal to beneficial reuse.
Most farmers today, he said, "cannot afford commercially produced fertilizers, whereas biosolids are free to them."
Characterizing his agency's program as extremely regulated and controlled, Stuart said biosolids are tame compared to other materials such as livestock and poultry manure being applied to fields in the county. He asked residents to recall "if you've ever smelled chicken or turkey waste that is hauled out of the Shenandoah Valley into this area."
Christina Wood, the agency's regulation and guidance coordinator for biosolids, pointed out that farmers' demand for sludge exceeds the supply.
The proposal, Stuart said, is a minor modification to an existing permit and as such would not be required to go through the State Water Control Board and a public hearing. The comment period ended Thursday; Stuart did not say when DEQ might rule on the application.
Recyc Systems Inc. already holds a permit allowing it to apply biosolids to numerous other farms in Orange County once every three years. The permit, which expires in 2020, must be formally modified to add other farms to the list.
DEQ staff members explained that the state regulation normally requires a buffer of 100 feet between an application site and an adjacent property line, and 400 feet to an occupied structure.
But in the future, a pending bill awaiting the governor's signature might require a doctor's certificate to obtain an increased buffer, Stuart said.
"Right now, we will give you an extended buffer just because you don't like biosolids," he said.
Nowacki immediately responded with, "I want one!" whereupon Stuart explained that the provision applied only to adjacent landowners, and, since the Lake of the Woods Association holds a 1-foot easement surrounding all the Rapidan Road properties, only the homeowners association would be able to make that request.
LOWA General Manager Phil Rodenberg indicated that his staff would be doing just that.
"We are not against biosolids," Rodenberg said, "but we feel in this particular case it may be inappropriate because of the closeness of the residents and the shopping center. We are going to apply for an extended buffer of 400 feet from the Lake of the Woods property line."