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Elma approves agreement to spread sludge on nearby farm

The city of Elma has partnered with a local farm to spread biosolids that have been building up at the city of Elma’s wastewater treatment plant.

Fire Mountain Farms, based in Onalaska, will work with Elma farmers Willis and Joan Martin to apply 100 dry tons of biosolids on 25 acres of farm fields, located adjacent to the existing wastewater treatment plant in Elma. The hope had been to spread more across their fields.

However, the Martins decided to lease 50 acres to an organic bean farmer. The state Department of Ecology had granted a permit for the project.

“The biosolids have been accumulating in the 2.5 million-gallon sludge storage basin since the wastewater treatment plant was built in 2002,” states a report by Michael Marshall with the engineering firm Gibbs & Olson. “The storage basin is totally full and we must remove a substantial amount to make room for more.”

The hope was to use the entire 75 acres, where the 2.5 million gallons would have translated to 300 dry tons of solids.

The sludge will be pumped and applied on the nearby land.

“Approximately 100 dry tons of biosolids can be applied yearly on the Martin farm,” Marshall writes. “At the conclusion of this first 100 dry tons, we will decide how best to move ahead with biosolids utilization for contracting next year and beyond.”

Grays Harbor Environmental Health Director Jeff Nelson had submitted public comment on the proposed permit this past spring, calling for adequate buffers around wells and to ensure that nearby Vance Creek Park, used by fishermen and swimmers, is protected, as well.

The state Department of Ecology says the municipal well is located 600 feet away and a 200-foot radial buffer will be established around a nearby agriculture well.

A 50-foot buffer has been established around Vance Creek, which runs through the property.

“Ecology believes that because of the relative flatness of the site, the established vegatative cover and the timing of the biosolids application, the 50-feet buffer from Vance Creek should be sufficient to deter any potential runoff,” the permitting agency states in its approval.

A couple neighbors also had concern about their wells and potential odors emitting from the site, according to the public comment data online.

Ecology officials said that the biosolids will only be applied during the driest months between July 1 and Aug. 31.

“Biosolids application is not often odor free, but the operational ideal is that odors are short-lived, and buffers, natural features, and weather conditions all combine to minimize off site impacts,” Ecology replied to the complaint, noting that the biosolids will also be treated to reduce the odor-causing compounds.

Marshall says that the biosolids will be spread the first week in August.

The Elma City Council approved the agreement during its meeting on July 21. The city is paying $46,680 for the removal of the biosolids.