Editor’s note: This is part one of two stories covering the Ohio EPA hearing concerning a permit application to install biosolid storage ponds in Bath Township.
BATH TOWNSHIP – Approximately 43 Bath Township residents and environmentalists attended the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) public hearing June 27 at Wright State University to ask questions and testify for the official record about a permit application to install two biosolids storage ponds on 65.9 acres of farmland east of Byron Road.
Prior to hearing testimony, Ohio EPA officials presented a brief presentation that detailed the permit-to-install application that Dovetail Energy LLC submitted to the state agency on May 6. The company, which operates an anaerobic digestion facility at 1156 Herr Road, is proposing to construct two open-air, synthetic-lined ponds that would have the capacity to store a combined 32-million gallons of biosolids until they are land applied at Ohio EPA-approved sites.
During the question-and-answer session, Dr. James Amon, vice president of the Beaver Creek Wetlands Association, expressed his concerns about the possible risks of groundwater contamination from the biosolids storage ponds. He asked the members of the EPA panel if any studies were conducted pertaining to a catastrophic event that would result in biosolids leaking into the groundwater.
Two members of the panel said they were unaware of any such study.
Byron Road residents Ray Mills and James Lewis voiced their concerns about the biosolids possibly polluting their well water. According to the neighbors, a high water table is especially common in the low-lying areas along Byron Road. However, Dovetail Energy plans to direct the runoff from the pond systems to a drainage ditch near the wellheads.
Bob Jurick, trustee and former executive director of the B-W Greenway Community Land Trust, testified for the record that the proposed site of the two storage ponds is relatively close to Pearl’s Fen, a pristine wetland that is the headwaters of the Beaver Creek Wetlands.
To prevent pond overflow during heavy down pours, Jurick proposed designing the ponds to withstand a 500-year storm. He also suggested placing sensors under the synthetic liners that would detect any leaks and installing a monitoring system that would help control the level of odor. In addition, Jurick proposed regular monitoring of local wells, eliminating human waste from the biodigesting process and diverting the flow of the runoff away from residential areas on Byron Road.
Ben (Matt) Jones, who lives on Herr Road near the Dovetail Energy biodigester facility, stated for the record that Dovetail Energy did not conduct a hydrological study of the proposed location of the storage ponds, which would identify any threats to the sole source aquifer that would lie directly under the ponds. He asked the Ohio EPA to require a full hydrological study because of the karst geology around the proposed site.
According to Jones, many designed engineers are now recommending concrete, aboveground liners for biosolids ponds in karst areas. He asked the state agency to follow suit of several other states and consider a safer, sturdier concrete liner.
Jones also asked the EPA officials to consider moving the proposed location of the two biosolids storage ponds five-to-10 miles in one of several directions where the ponds would not sit over top the soul source aquifer for the area. He referred to an incident on April 17, 2001 when the Ohio EPA cited Pitstick Pork Farm for a manure spill that killed 10,000 aquatic lifeforms and contaminated six-to-seven miles of Hebble Creek. Jones noted that the runoff from the ponds would drain into the same headwaters that the Pitstick land does.
Jones also cited a Nov. 15, 2018 U.S. EPA report from the office of the Inspector General, which concluded that the EPA is unable to assess the impact of hundreds of unregulated pollutants in land applied biosolids on human health and the environment. Jones asked if the Ohio EPA usually moved forward with approving projects the agency is unable to assess.
Brent Huntsman, chief hydrogeologist at the Terran Corporation, also pointed out that no hydrological study had been conducted on the proposed location of the storage ponds. Huntsman explained that the geology of the land is very complex with intervening layers of clay and sand. The property also contains the headwaters of Pearl’s Fen. He emphasized that the monitoring of the wastewaters on this property is very warranted because of the complexity of the water table in the area. Huntsman asked the Ohio EPA to require the installation of a sentinel groundwater monitoring system on both storage ponds.
Linda Collins is a freelance writer for Greene County News.