Signs to notify all of biosolids Montgomery Township approves new ordinance
By JIM HOOK
Farm fields spread with treated sewage sludge will be marked clearly in Montgomery
Township supervisors on Monday unanimously approved an ordinance that places
regulations on people and companies that spread sludge known as "biosolids."
Property must be clearly marked every 100 feet with signs stating that biosolids are
applied to the field.
Supervisor William Coble told the 30 people gathered at the meeting that the signs
might look "trashy' to skiers on their way to the Whitetail Ski Resort at the southern
end of the township.
"We're getting trashy!" said Ruth Hamil who lives on Bain Road.
"I think the signage is the only thing we've got going for us," said Rob Carbaugh of
The signs give people the opportunity to decide if they want to live next to a farm
where biosolids are spread, said his wife, Laura Carbaugh.
"We've had our house appraised. We're ready to bolt," said Sherry Moats, who lives
on Garnes Road near a farm where biosolids are spread. "If I knew this was going
on, I wouldn't have built here."
Citizens' concerns have been heightened in recent months. Recent research has
connected the spreading of biosolids to human illness. Some parents have blamed
biosolids for the deaths of their children who had played on land where it was spread.
The application of biosolids on area fields is increasing.
Paul Martin, a farmer who has used biosolids on his fields for years, objected to the
sign requirement. One of his fields has more than a mile and a half of fencing, he
The property would require more than 80 18-inch-square signs indicating that
biosolids are spread there, the name of the applicator, permit number and telephone
number of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"I don't know if you know the magnitude of this if you're talking signs every 100 feet,"
Martin said. "Who's going to maintain all these signs? ... I'm not going to maintain
them. Trees grow up. Snowplows knock them down. Bill (Coble) will mow them off."
The ordinance requires the applier of the biosolids to post and maintain the signs.
They must do so within 60 days.
The signs must remain in place for a year after biosolids are applied. Since the
standard farming practice is to spread biosolids once a year, the fields would be
Synagro applies biosolids to Martin's and other farmers' fields in Franklin County.
Synagro representatives said nothing during the meeting.
"We have some technical questions about how this ordinance will be implemented
by the township," Synagro spokeswoman Sharon Hogan told a reporter after the
She said she wanted to see what the setback requirements are for signs along state
and township roads.
John Szajna, an attorney with consulting engineers Nassaux-Hemsley of
Chambersburg, prepared the ordinance for Montgomery Township supervisors.
"(Synagro) asked for a copy and they had no objection to anything in it," Szajna
Township supervisors or a township code enforcement officer would enforce the
ordinance. The township has no code enforcement officer. Coble said supervisors
would respond to citizen complaints.
About a half dozen residents spoke in favor of the ordinance. Many applauded when
supervisors voted to adopt it.
Martin was the only person to speak against the ordinance. He said the spreading of
biosolids is an approved farm practice protected by the state Right to Farm Act.
Federal and state agencies and the county conservation district oversee biosolids.
"How many more agencies do you need to spread biosolids?" he asked.
Residents claim Martin objects to the visibility of the signs.
"He doesn't want the community driving by and seeing all those signs," said Aaron
Keener, a farmer on Buchanan Trail West. "He's getting something for nothing."
Synagro and other applicators charge sewage plants for hauling away biosolids.
They do not charge farmers for accepting the material.
Synagro applied about half the 1,854 tons of biosolids spread on Franklin County
farms in 2001. Montgomery Township was the county's top importer of biosolids in
Class B biosolids, the kind spread locally, are a rich fertilizer that contains some
heavy metals and small amounts of human pathogens.
Citizens vowed to take the fight against biosolids to the state level.
"We know this ordinance is a far cry from what you all expect," Coble said. "It's what
John (Szajna) felt we could do in our rights or jurisdiction."
The ordinance also applies to those who spread "septage," material pumped from
residential septic tanks, on fields.
Appliers must have liability, environmental and automobile insurance coverage of $1
million per occurrence.
Originally published Tuesday, August 5, 2003
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