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Neighbors smell trouble in proposal to spread waste on Sams Valley farmland

Neighbors are upset over plans to spread treated sewage on farmland near Sams Valley Elementary School and they oppose a proposal to build a sewage treatment facility on the property.

But Brian Thompson, owner of Merlin-based Clearwater Technologies, said the sewage is safe, won't smell and will fertilize the soil.

Thompson owns a 148-acre property at 14412 Table Rock Road, which is located at the corner of Table Rock Road and Highway 234, also known as Sams Valley Highway.

Sams Valley Elementary is next to the property, and rural homes are scattered in the vicinity.

Neighbor Christie Snyder said she opposes Thompson's plan to bring treated human waste from portable toilets and septic systems to the property and spread it on the land.

"You're not going to be able to convince me we won't be able to smell it on a hot day when they're spreading sewage around," said Snyder, adding she's also concerned about chemicals from portable toilets and septic systems.

Thompson said the sewage is treated with lime to raise its pH, which kills pathogens. He said the treated material would not have an odor.

"You can walk behind a truck as it's land-applied, and it doesn't have an odor," he said.

Last week, Jackson County issued a land compatibility statement, which verifies to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality that sewage biosolids can legally be trucked to the property and applied as fertilizer, said Jackson County Development Services Director Kelly Madding.

That use is permitted outright on land zoned for exclusive farm use and doesn't require public hearings, notification of neighbors or approval from the Jackson County Planning Commission or Jackson County Board of Commissioners, she said.

Thompson said he plans to begin applying treated sewage to the Table Rock Road land next summer, although he technically could begin applying the material now until Nov. 1 of this year. He said the volume amounts to about three-quarters of a gallon per square foot per year. The mixture is 94 to 96 percent water and 4 to 6 percent solids.

Thompson treats waste from portable toilets and septic systems from throughout Jackson and Josephine counties at a sewage treatment facility he owns in Merlin. The facility doesn't smell from the outside, although it does have an odor within.

He said many people are unaware a sewage treatment facility even exists there.

Thompson said he would like to build a holding area and sewage treatment facility on the Table Rock Road property so sewage from Jackson County doesn't have to be trucked to Josephine County for treatment.

"The bottom line is: It's needed. Josephine County has been taking care of Josephine and Jackson counties. More than 65 percent of the waste comes from Jackson County," he said. "We need a facility so pumpers don't have to haul it to Josephine County. It raises the price for people, and it's not green for the environment to run trucks that distance."

He said a holding area on the Table Rock Road land would be enclosed and covered to prevent odors from escaping. He hopes to build it out of sight in woods that cover about 40 acres of the property.

The woods border Sams Elementary School grounds.

Madding said she believes a full land-use process would be required before Thompson could build a sewage treatment facility on the land. The application would have to go through the Jackson County Planning Commission and Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

Kate Jackson, DEQ's regional liaison to Southern Oregon, said DEQ has provided technical assistance to Thompson regarding his proposal to build a sewage treatment facility. He hasn't turned in an application yet, she said.

Thompson said he has been in the business of dealing with sewage for decades, and it was DEQ that first proposed he consider the land application of treated sewage solids instead of dumping material in a landfill.

"DEQ wanted it to be a beneficial reuse and convinced me to do it," he said.

Thompson said people generally accept the idea of spreading animal manure as fertilizer, but they have problems accepting treated human sewage as fertilizer.

"This is something generated throughout the community," he said. "How is it being treated? Is it being recycled? Everyone needs to get rid of their waste, but people don't want to talk about it. I want it to be a good thing — not a bad thing."

Sams Valley resident Joseph Berto, who opposes plans to spread treated sewage or build a treatment facility, said it's totally inappropriate to dispose of sewage in a semi-rural neighborhood.

"It's very, very unfair to the residents of Sams Valley," he said. "He's talking about turning it into a dumping station for the whole county so they don't have to drive it to Josephine County."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com.

Brian Thompson, owner of Merlin-based Clearwater Technologies, walks near storage tanks at his sewage treatment facility Tuesday. Thompson wants to spread treated septic waste on farmland he owns in Sams Valley. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch