Politics of sludge: Where should decant facility go?

The question was, how can a “decant facility” fit into your neighborhood?

The answer: “No way – it can’t be done.”

What was billed as an informational meeting on a proposed disposal facility on city-owned property south of New Brooklyn Road and east of Sportsman Club turned into an angry protest, as residents of the Commodore developments to the south filled the city council chambers and vowed to block the project.

“Just tell us who will make the decision,” Commodore West resident Kevin Hawkins said, “and we will show you that with the political and economic power of the surrounding neighborhoods, it will not happen.”

The decant facility would allow public works crews to properly dispose of solid materials mixed with water, principally sludge from street sweeping and storm-drain clearing, as well as some sewage.

The material is placed into large drying trays – 40 feet by 24 feet – where water drains out of the material and evaporates. The solid residue is then tested for any hazardous contents, and is then disposed of according to the character of the waste.

The facility would consist of four drying trays, a 57-foot roof extending over the trays and room for trucks to maneuver.

“Because the material has been on the roadways, there is a chance it may have become contaminated to the point that we can’t just put it in a dump,” city Public Works Director Randy Witt said.

The city is under a mandate to build a facility to comply with state and federal environmental laws, according to Lance Newkirk, operations supervisor for the public works department.

An existing site at the head of the bay no longer meets regulatory requirements, Newkirk said, in part because it is adjacent to a city water well that requires special protection.

Newkirk said that after investigating several sites, the New Brooklyn site on the eastern edge of a 15-acre tract the city owns was deemed the most suitable.

But Monday, the neighbors weren’t buying it – any of it.

“How would you like this in your backyard?” one neighbor asked Newkirk, reflecting the tone of the opposition.

Newkirk said the site had three qualities that made it appropriate. First, he said, there is room not only for the facility itself, but to provide a barrier of trees and vegetation to screen it from view.

Second, he said the adjoining roadways – New Brooklyn and Sportsman Club – are not residential streets, and are built to handle heavy vehicles.

And third, he said the availability of a sewer line is an important consideration, because environmental regulations prevent disposing of the liquid residues through a septic system.

Newkirk estimated that the facility would generate some 400 truck trips per year – 350 or more incoming trips, and the balance outgoing.

“The volume of material we have to take away is much less than the volume that comes in,” he said, because of the evaporation of water.

Newkirk said there would be some noise from operations – diesel engines and backup alarms. He said odors would be non-existent for all materials except sewage, and he said those odors would be contained by covers on the containers into which material would be put.

But the neighbors, who say their back yards are just 250-500 feet from the facility, cited potential impacts from noise and odors, reduced property values and danger to schoolchildren as reasons to oppose the facility.

“You can’t minimize your costs at my expense,” said one.

Although Newkirk said the site-selection process has been going on for some time, and has involved the city council’s public works committee, the residents still said that proposal took them by surprise, and violated earlier representations about the city’s plans for the parcel it purchased two years ago.

“This parcel is right in the middle of a growing residential community,” said Commodore resident Stan Stunnel. “When the city bought that land, the mayor said that parts of it would be used for a police station and courthouse, and the rest would be open space.”

Public works committee member Merrill Robison said Tuesday that site-selection work has been going on for two years.

“We had some engineering work done on one possible site on Weaver Avenue, which the city owns, then learned that the neighborhood was up in arms against it,” he said.

Robison said the New Brooklyn site is not cast in concrete, and that neighborhood opposition will be taken into consideration. But he said the requirements for water and sewer lines rule out sites like the Vincent Road landfill site, and limit the possibilities.

“Is this a possible site? I’d say yes,” he said. Is it the best possible site? I’m not sure I know yet.”

Newkirk said sewer is not an absolute requirement, because water could be trucked to a sewer-access point. But he said building away from a sewer line increases both initial outlays for holding tanks and operational costs.

“We have a budget to work with, and within those constraints we need to be on a sewer line,” he said. “If those budget constraints went away, then there would be more sites we could consider.”

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