Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Seeking the poop on biosolids

People wait in line to enter the meeting room at the Goochland Branch Library

On Wednesday, August 19, an “informational meeting” about applications for permits to apply biosolids—processed residue from wastewater treatment plants—on more than 2,000 acres in Goochland drew a standing room only crowd to the library.

Sources speculate that the organizer of the meeting, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), chose to hold the meeting at the library even though larger venues--including the board meeting room—were offered, to defuse the crowd and prevent confrontations. Indeed, it seemed like many people waded through the throng, collected some information, and left with few answers.

As usual, this event generated more heat than light. Local governments have no say in the granting of permits for biosolids application. Proposed legislation to add more local oversight in the matter tends to die an early death in the General Assembly.

People move to places like Goochland for “rural character.” They seem to have a theme park notion of rural that includes scenically deployed cows and horses; picturesque fields of crops, and verdant forests. In reality, “rural” means agriculture, which can be noisy, smelly, and not so pretty.

If you want rural, you’re going to get agriculture in all its glory. Farmers toil long hours for razor thin profit margins to put affordable food on America’s tables. They are the true stewards of the land.

Application of biosolids on farmland is touted to improve soil quality while replenishing necessary nutrients. It is applied at no cost to the farmer.

Representatives from DEQ as well as Nutri-blend and Synagro, the companies that facilitate biosolds application, were scattered around the room with lots of information supporting the practice as posing no threat to public health and safety.

People with respiratory conditions and compromised immune systems disagree.

Biosolids application is heavily regulated by DEQ, the Virginia Water Control Board, and the EPA, which is under a cloud for recently causing toxic materials to be spilled in waterways in Colorado, New Mexico, and Greensboro, Georgia.

Local farmers, including Robert Harper, and Monacan Soil and water Conservation District Commissioner Ronnie Nuckols, who have or hope to have biosolids applied to land they use for agricultural purposes, were also there.

Harper, who runs cow/calf operations on three sites in Goochland, contended that biosolids, from residential wastewater treatment plants--he was quite specific about the source--when applied, adhering to regulations that govern: amounts appropriate to existing soil conditions, slope, wind, runoff, and buffers, improves the soil quality and poses no environmental threat. Harper explained that biosolids application saves him $100 per acre versus commercial fertilizer. (Dairy manure application, which makes parts of Goochland fragrant from time to time, is different from biosolids.)
An inspector for DEQ (there are four for the entire Piedmont region), said that biosolid applications are carefully monitored. Infractions of regulations are promptly corrected, he contended. When asked about the number of application infractions and spills in transit, he said that, to his knowledge, no such information is collected by any regulatory agency. He further suggested that GOMM would need to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to ascertain if such a data base even exists.

Seth Mullins, another DEQ biosolids inspector, said that he lives about 800 feet from land treated with biosolids. He said that any lead or toxic substances that might remain in biosolids would be in the parts per billion or trillion, if found at all.

Mullins contended that biosolids currently being applied are different from those of even a few years ago, and are “cooked” until almost inert to kill pathogens and reduce odor to levels so low they barely register.

This all sounds great; however, people at the meeting contended that biosolids are often applied to steeply sloping land near streams before rainstorms without observing required buffers so the stuff can wash into streams and onto adjacent property.

Opponents of the practice contend that there is insufficient credible data, prepared by impartial sources to substantiate claims that the practice is safe. Synagro (www.synagro.com) distributed information stating that the actual level of pollutants in biosolids is far lower than state allowed limits. There is, however, no indication where that data came from.

A bill to prepare a state funded study of the cumulative effects of biosolids application on soil and waterways did not pass the Virginia Legislature in 2015. A proposed study, performed by Virginia Tech with someone involved who is believed to sit on the board of one of the applicator firms, was rejected by one side as was a more impartial study performed by William & Mary. A bill proposing the W&M study is expected to be introduced in 2016.

An extensive webinar about biosolids is available at http://www.ext.vt.edu/topics/environment-resources/biosolids/ (click on training) that discusses the subject in excruciating detail.

There was no formal presentation on the 19th. A computer-generated slide show touting the positive aspects of biosolids application ran on a loop at the front of the room that was largely ignored.

A tangential safety concern is the heavy truck traffic biosolids application generates moving the stuff from the processor to the application site. Residents of Whitehall and Chapel Hill Roads, two of the most heavily traveled local “sludge routes,” report that the trucks, which they describe as enormous, worry them. They believe that the weight of these trucks damages the road surface and may exceed the limit for the bridges. These trucks, they say, run down the roads all hours of the day and night, including when school buses use the relatively narrow roads.

A DEQ inspector said that the applicator, Synagro or Nutri-blend, determines the route between the point of origin and application or storage site—probably the Lanier facility off of Chapel Hill Road. They are required only to use public roads and avoid residential areas. How do you do that in western Goochland?

Efforts to mandate recordation of biosolids application on deeds have so far been defeated in the Virginia General Assembly.

Residue from wastewater treatment plants has to go somewhere. Alternatives to land application are landfills and incineration that have their own issues. The practice does seem like the ultimate in recycling, using waste residue to improve soil.

While some will never believe that land application of biosolids poses no threat to the health and safety of the public, many could be convinced with impartial, credible evidence. It would behoove those making the big bucks on the practice to make an investment in those measures to replace dog and pony shows that seem to hide more than they reveal.

Technology might also be able to increase transparency. If the applications are being done correctly, why not use drones to document how and where biosolids are spread.

Goochlanders seem to understand that our farmers can use all the help they can get to stay in business and are not necessarily opposed to biosolds application, but they would like more information as to the safety of the practice.
The supervisors are trying to request a public hearing on the biosolids land application permits, but it is unclear if they will be successful.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Your place in Goochland's future

On November 3, Goochlanders will vote to fill all local offices. All current supervisors and school board members are running for reelection without opposition. They have publicly stated that they will not seek another term in 2019.

Where will the next set of elected officials come from?

One local resource that has introduced many citizens to community service is Goochland Leadership Enterprise. Begun in 1996 to encourage citizen engagement, and perhaps identify future leaders, GLE graduates have enriched virtually every community organization including: the Board of Supervisors; School Board; Christmas Mother; Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA); Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services; county Republican and Democrat political organizations; and the Goochland County Historical Society. One blogs.

A series of 14 sessions, usually held on Thursday evenings at 7 p.m., gives GLE participants detailed information about topics ranging from county history to ways to participate in the community.

The $55 application fee covers the cost of materials and meals.

The curriculum includes a “legislative day” trip to the Virginia General Assembly and a meeting with those who represent Goochland in Richmond. Learn first-hand about the challenges and opportunities of the state legislative process.

A dinner meeting with the Goochland Board of Supervisors scheduled for February provides a relaxed atmosphere and informal conversation about local government. Some sitting supervisors are GLE graduates and may share how their understanding of the role of local government evolved as they went from citizen to elected official.

In recent years, Goochland Schools have gone from “circling the drain” to soaring to new heights of achievement thanks to a hard working school board and innovative school administration. Learn how they did it and what is in store for the future during the session on education.
Preservation of Goochland’s rural feel is a high priority for citizens and elected officials alike. That does not happen by accident. Learn how the county’s land use strategies and economic development initiatives work in concert to bolster tax revenues and attract new businesses without Goochland becoming the next Chesterfield.

In addition to the content of the classes, GLE brings citizens from all parts of the county and all walks of life together. This is an opportunity to meet people you might not otherwise encounter to form new relationships and a better understanding of your community.
Visit http://offices.ext.vt.edu/goochland/index.html for more information and an application.

Sign up to see what Goochland can offer you and what you can offer Goochland.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

While many folks were worrying if the SPF number on their sunscreen was high enough as they enjoyed summer vacation, Goochland County's elected and appointed officials were hard at work doing the people's business.

At their August 4 meeting, the supervisors dealt with routine matters in the afternoon. These included remarks by Board Chair Susan Lascolette, District 1 stating that details of credit cards used by county employees will be part of the online check registers posted on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us. The school division has been doing this for a while and the board decided it would add to fiscal transparency.

Road construction projects underway that have closed portions of River Road at the Henrico County Line and Ashland Road between I64 and Broad Street Road are progressing at, or perhaps ahead of schedule.

The supervisors voted to endorse support for funding for road improvements at Ashland Road and I 64; Rt. 288 and Broad Street Road; and West Creek Parkway and Route 6.

The Board and Economic Development Authority held a working dinner meeting to discuss the role of the EDA, county economic development; and how the two groups can work together to support existing businesses in the county and attract new ones.

Matt Ryan, the county's director of economic development presented an update.  The announcement last month that Hardywood Craft Brewery will build a $28 million facility in West Creek is just part of the picture. In early July, the supervisors approved a rezoning that will result in construction of a memory care facility on the south side of Broad Street Road on the Henrico line. Both of these projects will pay ad valorem tax to service the TCSD debt and use lots of water and sewer to increase the user base for the county utility system.

Ryan said that the Hardywood announcement spurred interest in West Creek. He also discussed  the challenges that Goochland faces in the local economic development market. Right now, he said, there is something of an office space glut in the region, which is resulting in attractive pricing for existing space. However, looking into the future, Ryan speculated that, as long term  leases in places like Innsbrook expire, companies will be looking for newer, class A space. At that point, office buildings in West Creek might be more attractive. He also expressed confidence that some prospects "in the hopper"  will bear fruit.

As the county has no inventory of existing office, or warehouse space, it is hard to attract companies with no interest in building. 
District 5 Supervisor Ken Peterson pointed out that, as Norfolk is one of the few eastern seaboard ports able to accommodate the larger Panamax cargo ships coming on line.  Items arrive here by the container load that need to be remixed for truck transport to customers.  Goochland, with access much of the east coast and midwest  via I64 and Route 288 would seem to be an ideal location for this activity. 

The two groups agreed to work with Ryan and other county staff members to meet with existing businesses in the county to learn what kind of support they want and need.

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson said that the Department of Community Development is trying to keep ahead of the staffing curve to ensure that there are enough people to provide the permits, inspections, and other things needed to speed the establishment of new businesses in the county.

To that end, during the afternoon session, the Board authorized Dickson to sign a contract for design services to improve the efficiency of the Community Development space in the county administration building.

Following a public hearing at the evening session, the supervisors unanimously approved the proposed 2035 comprehensive land use plan with two modifications to the draft plan. Both changes affect the Bellview Gardens community. Th draft plan contained specific buffer distances between Bellview Gardens and any adjacent development. As no development is contemplated qt this time, the supervisors acceded to a request to change the wording to  an "appropriate" buffer, which could be more or less distance than specified, or take the form of a berm or other barrier, to be determined in reference to specific conditions. A proposed road shown in a map of Centerville, that ran between Bellview Gardens and Board Street Road, was removed from the plan.

The supervisors are mindful--and rightfully so--of the need to protect this residential enclave from encroachment of undesirable development as much as possible. Property rights of homeowners must be protected.

Another provision of the 2035 comp plan is creation of the  "Deep Run Hunt Community,"
which will also offer protection against inappropriate development in the equestrian heart of Goochland. Indeed, Peterson remarked that a lot of the time, effort, and heartache expended in the past few years to repel a cell tower and large church from this community could have saved had this provision been in the 2028  comp plan.

All of the supervisors heartily thanked Principal Planner Jo Anne Hunter, who headed the comp plan revision, county staff, and the planning commission for their hard work and commitment to crafting the new plan.

Dickson said that the next step is revision of all zoning ordinances to support the plan.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Throw in your two cents

The Goochland County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the 2035 Comprehensive Land Use Plan during the evening session of it its next meeting on August 4.  Renovations of the comp plan have been underway for about a year.

Both the Planning Commissioners and Supervisors have participated in workshops and held town meetings to gather input on the proposed plan.

Except for a relative handful of residents, out of a population of about 21,000, there has been little interest in the matter.

While the comp plan is designed to serve as a "guide" for land use decisions, a majority vote of the supervisors could over ride it. Unlike previous comp plans, the county intends to revise zoning ordinances to support it, and avoid the frustrating contradictions that characterized previous comp plans. For instance, indicating areas where a particular kind of development may occur, mixed use, for instance, without permitting that kind of land use in county statutes.

The public hearing on the proposed comp plan before the Planning Commission earlier in the year drew only a few public comments. Next Tuesday is your last chance to throw in your two cents.

Even if you have no interest in land use issues--most people pay no attention until there is a bulldozer on the land next to their home-- the proposed 2035 comp plan contains a great deal of interesting information about Goochland. Please take a minute to at least skim it. The proposed 2035 comp plan is available on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us.

When adopted, the 2035 comp plan will be available online and in a printed, bound version. We hope that local realtors provide copies of the 2035 comp plan to new residents so they understand that Goochland is not just like Henrico with large lots. We're better, but we're also different.

Our elected officials really want to encourage citizen engagement in all facets of local government. Even if you have a complaint, they want to hear from you.

Throw in your two cents for a better Goochland!