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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Brown County legislators promoting biohazards

Good friends of mine have their names on House Bill 1148. I hope they investigate the implications of this bill, hold extensive hearings, invite analysis from environmental scientists, and investigate the professional qualifications and work history of the people who are promoting this suspension of environmental processes and controls. This bill would allow for the massive biological contamination of the land and water.

This bill's origins have a specific reference in Aberdeen. Here is the background:

Northern Beef Packers is building a $40 million meat processing plant in Aberdeen right next to the city's waste water treatment plant. While some people opposed the plant and forced a referendum on the basis that it would attract "undesirable" people as workers and create environmental problems, the plan had effective backing. It was promoted on the basis of creating jobs, value-added agriculture, and a change to activate the town's stagnating economy. City officials and leaders gave strong support to the plant and cleared the way for zoning and getting financial help by designating the plant site a tax increment finance district. City voters passed the TIF referendum by 66 percent.

A big hurdle for the plant is the matter of obtaining water and disposing of it. The WEB rural water system and the City of Aberdeen have taken measures to assure that there would be enough water to operate the plant. The City also had to assure citizens that there would be proper disposal of the prodigious amounts of waste water produced by the plant. That is why the site next to the waste water plant was approved. After being treated, Aberdeen's waste water is emptied into Moccasin Creek, which carries it down to the James River and then into the Missouri. In approving the zoning for the plant, the City assured that the water would be effectively treated and would not cause pollution and environmental contamination.

But in October, some men appeared before the Brown County Commission and asked for endorsement of another plan for disposing of the wastewater. Their scheme would involve not running the sewage through waste water treatment. Instead the sewage would be pumped to a series of holding ponds specially built for the purpose, and then pumped through pipelines to farms where it would be used to irrigate farm crops. The farmers would pay for the waste water.

This scheme has serious problems from the standpoint of economic viability and environmental pollution. Building the ponds and pipelines would require easements on private and public lands. Its construction would also have to face a series of environmental exceptions and approvals. Circumventing that process is what HB 1148 is designed to do.

Northern Beef Packers has backed away from this proposal for its plant, but raising the proposal has damaged the support the plant has had from some government officials and community leaders. The environmental impact of the plant was a major objection, and leaders had to assure that it would be minimal. Rezoning the land next to the waste water treatment plant to permit the construction was a major effort on the part of the City Council and County Commission to reassure citizens that the plant would not be a source of water pollution and environmental degradation and hazard.

I was working in the Court House and City Hall the day the request to circumvent the water treatment process was presented to the County Commission. After going to the effort to clear the way for the plant construction, officials felt betrayed by the proposal. Some elected officials think the proposal reflects an absence of competence and doubt that the backers of the plant have the planning and managerial ability to bring it to completion. County commissioners took the attitude of benign neglect and chose to "table" any endorsement, hoping the plan would quietly be forgotten.

Some City Council members indicated that they could no longer offer any overt support for the beef plant. Problems in retaining project managers and keeping marketing contracts and financing arrangements in place are the sources of serious doubts about the plants viability. The proposal to circumvent the waste water treatment,, however, has come to symbolize the thinking and planning going into the project.

One official called the alternative waste disposal scheme an e coli factory. And that gets to the point he made. With the recalls of food products for biological and chemical contamination, how could anyone even raise the question of holding raw sewage in ponds and irrigating crops with bacteria and chemical-laden sewage? He pointed out that a major concern in treating waste water is to see that e coli, salmonella, listera, and many other disease organisms are not injected into the environment.

HB 1148 is designed to nullify the process that protects the public against massive pollution of pathogens carried in waste water. The bill not only removes what protection there is, it effectively promotes a scheme that is based upon the selling of contamination by pumping it into the environment.

I cannot explain how this bill got written. I would hope that its sponsors would do some checking about the qualifications and the work histories of the people who are promoting it. And I hope they would ask professors from the SDSU College of Agriculture, state environmental authorities, and city and county officials about the implications of this proposal.

It is an astounding assault on public safety and all that we have learned about environmental contamination in the past half century or so.

732P0328 HOUSE BILL NO. 1148

Introduced by: Representatives Novstrup (Al), Brunner, DeVries, Elliott, Gassman, Gosch, Hargens, Howie, McLaughlin, Sigdestad, Street, and Turbiville and Senators Hundstad and Hoerth

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to exempt the land application of certain solid waste used for irrigation purposes from requirements related to large-scale solid waste facilities.
Section 1. That § 34A-6-53 be amended to read as follows:
34A-6-53. No large-scale solid waste facility may be sited, constructed, or operated in this state unless the Legislature enacts a bill approving the siting, construction, or operation of such the facility pursuant to a solid waste permit or permit renewals, issued by the Board of Minerals and Environment. The Legislature must find that the facility is environmentally safe and in the public interest. The requirements of this section do not apply to the land application for irrigation purposes of solid waste generated from a livestock processing facility if the application is done in accordance with a solid waste permit or permit renewal issued by the board.

250 copies of this document were printed by the South Dakota
Legislative Research Council at a cost of $.04 per page.
Insertions into existing statutes are indicated by underscores.
Deletions from existing statutes are indicated by overstrikes.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States