Wahkiakum County commissioners voted this week to ban the use of treated sludge as a fertilizer — a move that challenges the state's permit system and may stop a Grays River farmer from spreading "biosolids" on his pasture.
The ordinance, which was adopted Tuesday by a 2-1 vote, comes just as Seaview-based Evergreen Septic, Inc., is preparing to haul treated wastewater out to Phil Zerr's western Wahkiakum County farm.
"I don't like to tell anybody what they're going to do with their land, but when it comes to dealing with public health, that is an issue too," said Commissioner Dan Cothren, who voted in favor of the ban. "There are just too many unknowns."
The ordinance, which goes into effect immediately, bans the use of all "Class B" biosolids countywide. Violators would be fined as much as $1,000.
Cothren and Commissioner Blair Brady, who also supported the ban, both have expressed concerns that contaminants from the biosolids could wash into area streams or seep into groundwater and poison wells.
But the state Department of Ecology, which regulates the use of biosolids as fertilizer, felt comfortable with the project and has approved it.
"We already issued a permit and we believe it's a legal and valid permit," said Laurie Davies, program manager for Ecology's Waste 2 Resources Program.
Davies said she didn't know whether her agency would challenge the county's ban in court.
Commissioner Lisa Marsyla said she voted against the ban because she fears the issue will face a legal challenge, and that the county's ordinance might not hold up.
"If we go in with a full-out ban, I don't believe we will win the case," Marsyla said. "I believe we should have tried to negotiate (with Ecology officials) more up front."
Marsyla favored an alternative version that would have banned the spreading of treated sludge within 1,000 yards of designated flood hazard areas.
Both Zerr and Evergreen Septic owner Claude Noyes said they hadn't heard about the ban and wanted to read the wording before commenting.
Noyes said he'd planned to begin treating Zerr's 80 acres of pasture land later this spring.
Western Wahkiakum County residents who oppose Zerr's fertilizing plan have been asking county commissioners for more than a year to find a way to prevent it. Commissioners initially said there was no action they could take, but eventually began discussing a possible ban last June.