Millersburg residents protest land farm plans

Soil scientist refutes concerns that the soil will affect their health.
Friday, December 12, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:06 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

For more than a year, members of the Millersburg community have been battling plans to treat contaminated soil near their homes in Callaway County, as well as the state officials who would regulate the business. That clash continued Thursday when residents had a chance to speak out at a joint meeting with state regulators from the Department of Natural Resources.

The so-called “land farms” treat petroleum-contaminated soil using natural processes to break down hydrocarbon compounds by spreading the contaminated soils in a thin layer outdoors. The soil is occasionally tilled for aeration or treated with fertilizer and moisture to accelerate the process. Millersburg residents have condemned a partially built land farm near their homes for fear that the contaminated soil could affect health and property values.

At Thursday’s joint meeting of the state Clean Water and Hazardous Waste commissions, state soil scientist Tony Dohmen gave a presentation he called “Land Farms 101” on how they are built and used. Dohmen said that land farms are good because they allow contaminated soil to be reused and prevent disposal at a landfill.

“When operated according to permit- conditions, land farms are a safe and effective method,” he said.

Asked about the negatives of land farms by Rusty Brown of the Clean Water Commission, Dohmen said the “not in my backyard” syndrome is the one natural resources departments hears the most.

“I don’t know that I know of any negative connotations,” Dohmen said.

He added that zoning and other issues are beyond the scope of natural resources.

Jim Hull, director of the Clean Water Commission, said that most of the objections come from residents who don’t believe land farms are placed in suitable locations or constructed and operated correctly.

Land farms were first allowed in Missouri in the late 1980s but only in the past several years have they sparked controversy. The advent of long-term, commercial-land farm businesses have angered rural residents who live near them. Millersburg residents are fighting to keep a land farm from operating, and three land farms owned by Mitchell Putnam near Chillicothe in Livingston County have resulted in dozens of complaints.

Shelly Vestal of Millersburg said she didn’t find out about the land farm built adjacent to her property until September 2002 when Environmental Consulting & Remediation of Millersburg began the construction of the business. Along with other Millersburg residents, Vestal formed a citizens group in an effort to stop the land farm.

Because of pressures from the Millersburg group and residents near three land farms in Livingston County, state environmental officials created stakeholder groups in the spring to help establish new permit regulations for land farms.

The proposed rules address some of the residents’ issues, such as requring public notice before a permit is issued.

Operations like the ones in Millersburg and Livingston County, however, fall under a “grandfather” clause in the permits because they had already been issued a permit.

Cherie Telker, president of Environmental Consulting & Remediation, said Thursday her company’s land farm is ready for operation except for installing a liner (to prevent seepage into the ground), which is not typically done until just before the soil is added for remediation.

“We’re still on a holding pattern, waiting for the state to finalize the new permits,” Telker said. “They were supposed to be done several months ago.”

Vestal and several others were less than satisfied. Dohmen’s speech presented “the same DNR attitude we’ve had to deal with,” including a lack of communication, inadequate regulations and the lack of investigation of complaints, Vestal said.

“I’d just as soon these weren’t in anybody’s backyard,” she said.

Another resident with property adjacent to the Millersburg land farm is Jim Baumgartner. He said such operations probably are a good thing but that the community has been misled.

“Remember, regulations don’t do anything. It’s the enforcement that counts, and that’s not happening,” Baumgartner said.

“I regret that you don’t have confidence in us,” Hull replied.

Afterward, Millersburg area resident John Griffin said the meeting was a disappointment.

“You have a lot of employees of the commission patting themselves on the back,” he said. “But they really didn’t even address the issue — and when they did, it was one-sided.”

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