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Mill Canyon Farm Applies to use Fertilizer Derived from Municipal Sewage

Some resident of a canyon thirty five miles west of Spokane are concerned with a plan by a local farm to use fertilizer derived from municipal sewage. Rosman Farms has asked the Department of Ecology to certify a plan to use “bio solids,” produced from municipal sewage sludge as a fertilizer on grain fields bordering Mill Canyon.

Ecology spokeswoman Joye Redfield –Wilder says the material has been approved on other farmland in the state and is certified as being safe, “They are sampled to make sure they don’t have pathogens or vectors and are tested for metals and other materials. It’s just a part of the process that we want to make sure that there’s not any human health concerns related to pathogens or other toxic substances.”

Some residents of the canyon aren’t convinced.

Morton Alexander has property in the canyon, and a small orchard, and worries about specific canyon conditions that could lead to the material winding up on his and others’, nearby  properties, “Like, we had a big flood in 2014 that brought down all kinds of topsoil from the farms up above. As most people who live in this area know, there are wind storms that carry farm land wherever.”

Alexander worries also about a spring on his property, and how the sewage waste might impact the water quality, especially for members of the public who often fill up containers from the spring at a nearby road.

There are also concerns from nearby organic farmers. Timothy Pellow from the long–standing Tolstoy Farm, worries about how the nearby bio-solids might affect their organic certification if some of the material were to be blown onto their fields.

The Ecology spokeswoman says the certification process will ensure that the material does not pose a threat to any neighbors in the canyon, “Those permits requirements are site specific. In this case, the site does contain some steep slopes and areas where we won’t allow the bio-solids to be applied, but it’s also a farm that is in the CRP program , so it’s got some extra buffer space. We’ve had our hydro-geologists study the proposal and find that there shouldn’t be any threats to surface or groundwater at this site.”

Those efforts don’t impress an attorney who represents Mill Canyon residents in the case: “Everything that’s getting filtered out in a sewage treatment plant that they are trying to keep out of the water is going to be going into the sludge.” That’s Rachael Pascal-Osborne, who says she thinks the Department of Ecology has a dual, and conflicting role in this story, “They are regulating the sewage treatment plants, trying to help them get rid of their sludge, but at the same time regulating the application of that sludge, so it’s a conflict for them: They want the treatment plants to get rid of it. They’re motivated, perhaps, to cut corners and not worry about all the things that are not being tested for.”

Ecology expects to sign off on the certification in the next forty five days. The agency spokeswoman says because of the sheer amount of testimony from residents during the previous comment period, it has taken several months to finalize the process.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.