Persistent complaints from residents of North Bank Chetco River Road and parents of children at Upper Chetco School over the nearby dumping of treated sewage appears to have made an impression on Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) officials.
At a DEQ public hearing Wednesday, Paul Kennedy from the agencys Roseburg office said there has been a two-year moratorium on spreading biosolids from the sewage plant on the nearby field.
Kennedy also said the moratorium would continue indefinitely. He said the previously issued permit to use the biosolids as fertilizer on the field could not be revoked without lengthy hearings, but the moratorium can be extended.
The complaints, both written and oral, began in 1995 and focused on sewage sludge being applied as fertilizer on a field adjacent to the school and a residence.
Wednesdays DEQ meeting was originally scheduled to discuss the citys wastewater treatment plant, but time was made to allow citizens to comment about the dumping issue.
Comments and questions, mostly from those who object to the use of the treated sewage as fertilizer on fields near the Chetco and the Winchuck Rivers, lasted more than three hours.
The two most vocal witnesses were Shannon Hahn, whose home abuts the field near the Upper Chetco School, and Daisy Elizabeth Rogers, a student at the school. Hahns testimony reviewed her quest to seek answers about the biosolids being spread near her home that began when she first observed the dumping in 1995 and 1996.
Her often repeated question was, Is it safe?
She said the first answer she received was, Well, you wouldnt want to play in it.
She said in the beginning the sludge being dumped on the field included fecal matter, blood, tampons, condoms, worms and diseases.
Prior to the citizen comments, during the first part of the meeting, two representatives of Brown and Caldwell, the engineering company that constructed the latest improvements to the sewage plant spoke about those improvements.
Using slides for illustration, Brown and Caldwells Ron Walls and Steve Wilson reviewed the citys efforts over the years to come into compliance with DEQ standards for handling the communitys sewage.
They explained how the sewage is treated to remove pathogens with the use of the new additions to the plant.
The sludge now goes through three steps to make it safe for use as fertilizer, they said.
They called the new 2-million-gallon storage tank the crown jewel of the facility, allowing storage of the treated sewage during wet weather.
It protects the environment, Walls said.
Wilson said biosolids are used all over the state for fertilizer to increase crop growth.
Questions from concerned citizens included what is meant in the statement that most of the pathogens are removed before the waste is used on fields.
There were complaints about the drift of mist when it is sprayed on the fields, and comments that balls from the school playground are retrieved from the field and handled by children.
The discussion also included complaints about odor, possible contamination of humans and pets, possible water shed contamination, and lack of enforcement of 30-day restriction from sprayed fields.
Testimony included remarks from David Nelson, Martha Cole, and Lynn Rogers, who joined Hahn and Daisy Rogers in criticism of the use of the biosolids, and from Richard Woodel, who defended its use.
Kennedy told the group that written comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. April 18,
All written comments will receive written answers, he said.