Farmers worry they’ll be forced into using more expensive alternatives, farm neighbors want the smell eliminated
GILMANTON — A group of 36 local residents who are sick of the smell of bio-solids or "sludge" coming from neighboring farms, has filed a petitioned warrant article that, if it passes, would eliminate the use of bio-solids in Gilmanton.
According to Don Guarino, who lives across the street from The Haymaker Farm that got a permit to expand the area where they spread sludge from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services in September, the smell was outrageous.
Neighbor Len Swanson, who also lives near the same farm said his concerns were for safely and health.
"There is mounting evidence that it's not safe," Swanson said. "We had a horrendous odor for three weeks."
When asked if he became ill, he said he hadn't but his outdoor activities were seriously curtailed by the smell.
Bio-solids or "sludge" is organic matter recycled from sewage, which includes human waste, and primarily used as fertilizer in land applications. According to Michael Rainey the supervisor of Residuals Management Section at the state Department of Environmental Services, bio-solids have been used by multiple farmers in Gilmanton for a number of years.
Rainey said the state regulations on bio-solid use is much more stringent than that of the federal government and outlines a process for testing and notifications. He added that the state does not require a permit for Class A sludge and a site-specific permit is required for Class B sludge. Rainey said notice to a newspaper and to the town is required before each annual application of any sludge and the DES checks those during their inspections.
During the Jan. 14 meeting of the Gilmanton Planning Board, minutes reflect a number of people speaking against allowing sludge at all in Gilmanton. Draft minutes indicate that 20 people spoke and five letters were submitted for the record. Of those 25 comments, seven supported the continued use of bio-solids and asked for the Planning Board not to support the warrant article and 18 said they supported the ban and requested the opposite.
Planning Board Chairman Wayne Ogni said Friday that the board voted unanimously not to support the petition because no scientific evidence was presented to support the outright ban but said the Planning Board is not through with discussing bio-solids at all.
"In fact, I think we're just beginning our conversation," Ogni said.
He said he was initially disappointed that residents didn't come to the board earlier for a discussion but instead simply petitioned for a ban. Having said that, Ogni wants to hold a meeting with residents and possibly discuss some zoning and planning regulations that may be able to mediate some of the offending situations. He gave examples of earlier notifications, set backs more stringent than are provided by the state, ingresses and egresses as example of things that the Town Planning Board should be discussing and examining. He said he thinks the town needs more scientific and economic information before it bans bio-solids.
Rainey said the DES provides for individual communities to develop their own rules and regulations including zoning ordinances as long as they are not more liberal that those set by the state.
Farmers are not happy about the possibility voters could ban sludge from use or limit them from expanding their current usage.
Farmer Tim Towle said he started using Class A bio-solids on his farm about eight years ago because he likes the slow release of nitrogen into the soil. He said bio-solids used to be free, but now so many farmers are using it he has to pay, but bio-solids are still cheaper than commercial fertilizer.
Ryan Smith of Hammer Down Farm, the former Twigg property, said he had about 17 acres of land that needed "some work, to say the least." He said the sludge he used stuck to the land and was far less likely to be washed away in a downpour. He said if he loses the ability to use sludge, it will decrease his bottom line and profitability. He said commercial fertilizer is expensive and cow manure is hard to find.
Daniel Sanborn said he used bio-solids on 90 acres of corn and 42 acres of hay fields last year. He said his soil is much improved and would not support banning bio-solids. He also wanted the Planning Board and people to know that he has been farming since 1998 and wouldn't do anything that could jeopardize the future of his soil quality.
Another man, who asked not to be identified, and who lives near several farms but doesn't farm said the smell can be pretty rough for a few days but he would not like to ban bio-solids from Gilmanton. He added he's not overly fond of the smell of manure either and said the difference was not significant.
However, Guarino feels very strongly that bio-solids should be banned from Gilmanton altogether. Although he is the selectman's representative to the Planning Board, he ceded his seat temporarily to Michael Jean so he could speak on the matter with no conflicts.
"We've had enough of the odor, trucking and transportation," he said. Guarino said the DES doesn't check for pharmaceuticals and having the DES as the watch dog is like having the wolf guard the hen house."
He said one of his neighbors has allegedly been sick since that last time it was spread in his neighborhood. "It devalues my property because all I can smell is (explicative.)"
Voters will be able to discuss the matter once more at the deliberative session of Town Meeting on Jan. 30 at 10 a.m. at the High School. Because it is a petitioned warrant article, it cannot be changed by the Planning Board or at the session. Elections are on March 8.