With more than 30 concerned residents in attendance, two ordinances have been approved that place regulations or restrictions concerning the use of biosolids as fertilizer for crops.

But a local farmer who has applied for a sewage sludge holding facility permit warned the county at least one restriction may lead them on the path to a lawsuit.

The Bartholomew County commissioners gave their second and final approval to an ordinance requiring every request to build a biosolids storage facility to go to the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to request a conditional use permit. Permits will be considered on a case-by-case basis after a public hearing is conducted to allow neighbors and others to express their concerns or support, Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.

The other ordinance that received final approval Monday prohibits the importing, storage and application of biosolid material from anywhere other than Bartholomew County unless it is processed by the Columbus City Utilities’ wastewater treatment plant. Violators could face fines of up to $5,000 a day.

These new restrictions were created after Evan Daily of Biocycle LLC applied for a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to accept dewatered biosolids for blending and use on farmland, and store them on his family’s property southeast of Columbus.

“I still view (the out-of-county ban) as an illegal ordinance that mainly affects my farm operation and limits what fertilizer I can use,” Daily told the commissioners.

In earlier meetings, the Biocycle LLC owner said he’s required by state regulations to mix out-of-county biosolids with local sludge. On Monday, Daily said he had provided the commissioners with about 10 examples of similar bans struck down by judges.

“If this gets to the point where I cannot bring in enough biosolids to meet what area I want to fertilize, I think the only option we have at that point is to file suit to try to challenge the ordinance,” Daily said.

In earlier meetings, the commissioners stated they want conditional use permits for biosolid storage facilities because several residents say they feel they have no say about the application of biosolids as fertilizer. That sense of being powerless stems from the fact that biosolids fall under under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, they said.

By requiring a BZA hearing, neighbors will be notified of applications and be given the opportunities to express their concerns, Kleinhenz said.

Every application must meet each of the following four criteria before a condition use permit is issued:

• The proposal will not be injurious to the public health, safety, and general welfare of the community.
• The development of the property will be consistent with the intent of the development standards established by the zoning ordinance for similar uses.
• Granting the conditional use will not be contrary to the general purposes served by the zoning ordinance and will not permanently injure other property or uses in the same vicinity.
• The proposed use will be consistent with the character of the zoning district in which it is located and the recommendations of the county’s comprehensive plan.

Kleinhenz emphasized sewage sludge that is applied only to the same farm where the biosolids are stored will not be subject to BZA review.

Eight people spoke to the commissioners during public hearings Monday. One was real estate broker Tim Scheidt, who said he recalled when locations were being sought in the 1990s for a new county landfill. Scheidt said he remembers that county leaders at that time were very cautious and concerned about the impact of a landfill on neighboring properties.

“I equate that with this type of proposed improvement,” Scheidt said. “Because of a land use change in predominately agricultural zoning with residential neighborhoods located nearby, there could be some effect from the material that will be dropped off at this site.”

But if there are going to be biosolid holding facilities, Scheidt said there should at least be a requirement to install containment walls. Without them, a tornado striking the holding facilities could be disastrous for neighbors, he said.

Bartholomew County resident Levi Fischer said he believes some of county residents’ wells and groundwater are already contaminated, noting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency won’t conclude a study on the impact of biosolids on groundwater until 2029.

“What happens when my well and my groundwater get contaminated?” Fischer asked the commissioners. “What’s that going to do to me and the forever home I plan to be in?” he asked.

Columbus City Utilities engineer Ashley Getz and Wastewater Operations manager Randy Ducksworth also addressed the commissioners.

“It sounds like there is a lot of misinformation about biosolids and the risks,” Getz said. “We are meeting all regulations, It’s a very highly regulated environment.”

Getz adds the use of biosolids and a recent report of local ground water contamination are not related. But since residents can get emotional about the issue, Getz said she chose not to speak publicly until Monday.

Something has to be done with the biosolids created at the Columbus Wastewater Treatment plant, the commissioners stressed.

Ducksworth agreed, saying the Bartholomew County landfill doesn’t have enough trash to accepted biosolids. Getz explained that environmental regulations require a 10 to 1 ratio of trash to sludge.

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