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City must minimize rate increases in sludge issue

September 28, 2018

Huntington's wastewater treatment plant produces sludge that must be buried in a landfill. It had been hauled to one in Ohio, but state officials there ordered a stop to that because the sludge smelled so bad. It appears the sludge will now go to a landfill in Kentucky, but that presents a new set of problems.

Huntington’s wastewater collection and treatment system has had to deal with a number of expensive problems over the past several years. This week, another one came to light.

Ohio no longer wants to accept sludge from the city’s treatment plant, and a Kentucky landfill apparently doesn’t want to accept as much as the city produces.

Scott Kelley, chief operator of the Huntington wastewater treatment plant, told members of the Huntington Sanitary Board on Tuesday that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency asked the city to cease dumping its sludge at the Rumpke Waste and Recycling facility in Waverly, Ohio, because of the odor being caused there.

The city is in talks to drop off sewage sludge at the Republic Services’ Green Valley Landfill near Ashland. That helps in one way because Waverly, Ohio, is about 70 miles from Huntington, while the landfill in Kentucky is only a few miles from the treatment plant. However, sludge delivered to Kentucky must be treated with lime first as a way of cutting down on the odor, Kelley said. Lime will cost the city from $40,000 to $80,000 a year, Kelley said.

The bigger problem for Huntington appears to be that the Green Valley Landfill might not accept as much sludge as Huntington produces. Rumpke accepted three truckloads a day from Huntington. Green Valley will accept only two, Kelley said.

Charleston does not have this problem because the city owns its own landfill and treats sludge with a digester, Kelley said. A digester breaks down organic material in sewage sludge, converting it to fertilizer before being hauled off.

Kelley said it was cheaper to haul the city’s sludge out of state because landfills in West Virginia require the sewage sludge be treated in a digester first.

Ohio, Kentucky and other states are placing more requirements on the types of waste they accept from out of state, Kelley said.

“Nobody likes to dispose of other people’s trash,” he said.

Brian Bracey, executive director for the Huntington Water Quality Board, said the city might look at building a digester at its treatment plant. That would eliminate the expense of buying so much lime, he said.

Kelley said the city previously looked at creating a 10-acre landfill, but some estimates showed it would cost approximately $1 million.

But digesters aren’t inexpensive to build, operate and maintain, either.

Huntington’s location on the border with Ohio and Kentucky has helped it avoid the construction, operating and maintenance expenses of one or more sewage digesters, but that time could be close to over.

This comes after rates have been raised to deal with other expenses. Sooner or later, the federal Environmental Protection Agency will require more capital investment in separating the city’s sanitary and stormwater sewers. Drainage problems that cause 3rd and 5th avenues to flood in heavy rains will have to be addressed eventually.

So where does this leave the Sanitary Board? With another possibly expensive problem in a city where fees and taxes go up to support basic infrastructure and services while the population goes down.

Finding a solution that prevents or at least minimizes rate increases won’t be easy, but it must be done.

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