Island County eyes sewage disposal options

As the bill for hauling septic sludge off-island continues to enlarge, Island County leaders are considering the future of solid waste disposal.

County commissioners and staff delved into the nitty gritty on the subject at a work session Wednesday but came to no conclusions.

A recent rate study completed by a consultant recommends the county raise rates for septic and solid waste disposal. Recycling and septage removal in particular have become significantly more expensive, according to the study, and the county’s rates have remained stagnant for nearly a decade.

The county used to spread treated biosolids from septic tanks on a local farmer’s field, but since the agreement ended, the waste has been trucked to Whatcom county. So far, public works staff hasn’t found another property owner to take the material, which works as fertilizer.

In the long term, Commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Janet St. Clair agreed, the department should look into potentially doing other forms of disposal, such as turning the material into compost.

“I really think we need to change the way we’re doing business,” Price Johnson said, noting the environmental impact of hauling as well as the high cost.

St. Clair said the conversation should continue as technology in the field improves.

In the meantime, the county has nowhere nearby to dump biosolids. Public Works Director Bill Oakes said it costs almost $500,000 a year to truck the material to Lynden.

“No one’s busting down my door saying they want my biosolids,” Public Works Director Bill Oakes said at the meeting.

Many who oppose the practice of spreading biosolids are concerned about its Class B status. This classification is cleared by the EPA for land application because the pathogens die soon and are naturally filtered by the soil, according to at the agency. There are more regulations for Class B land application.

Class A is treated to be pathogen free and is easier to dispose of.

Oakes said the county is researching what it would take to treat to Class A.

Rate increases are still likely in the future for Island County resides, but a formal recommendation hasn’t been presented to commissioners yet by the Solid Waste Advisory Committee.

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