Crowd raises stink over sewage-based fertilizer

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, August 17, 2013

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Hills criss-crossed with rocky creeks rise up from the valley of the West Fork of the Trinity River just north of Boyd.

Lifetime Boyd resident Danny Lambert grew up playing and swimming in the shallow creeks that run into the muddy West Fork. These days, he wouldn’t let his grandkids get in the water.

Empty Pond

EMPTY POND – Cows have stopped watering at a pond just north of Boyd located below a large ranch where sewer sludge is used as fertilizer. The owner thinks the fertilizer, known as “biosolids,” might have runoff into the pond. Messenger photo by Brandon Evans

Three longhorns with racks as wide as a compact car mill around a pond on some of his property located just off Farm Road 730 north of Boyd. A doe and two spotted baby deer dash through a opening in the wood.

“She has twins every year,” Lambert said.

But every year, a horrible stench and potentially pollution-filled runoff disrupts Lambert’s rural tranquility.

On a large neighboring ranch – one that stretches about 350 acres – truckload after truckload of treated human waste, or “biosolids,” are dumped onto the rolling pastures. Farmers pay a company called Renda Environmental $20 a load to use the waste as fertilizer. The company contracts with sewage treatment plants to dispose of their solid wastes after the pathogens and metals have been eliminated.

Lambert has battled with the use of sewer sludge as fertilizer on his neighboring property for almost a decade. It started in 2004, when runoff from the neighboring field possibly led to the death of all the fish in his pond.

Another neighbor has cows that will no longer drink from a water tank since possible runoff from the “biosolids” filtered down into it.

“I built this place so my grandkids could come here and fish and swim, and their kids and then their kids,” Lambert said. “I won’t let them near it now.”

The pollution is bad enough, but nothing can match the smell of tons of sewer sludge spread over hundreds of acres.

“It smells like a very strong ammonia,” Lambert said. “It lasts for as long as 30 days after they spread it out – and it’s worse when it rains. It’s so bad when I drive by this stretch of highway in the valley I hold my breath and turn off my air conditioner until I get all the way past it. I can get in my car the next day, start it up and still smell it coming out of my air conditioner vents.

“People fly past here to get past the smell. Police could write a lot of tickets if they set up here.”

He said the smell is much worse than typical fertilizer.

“I was raised on a dairy farm. I started working on one at 8 years old, and it never smelled anything like this.”

The smell doesn’t affect just neighbors either. Complaints are raised miles and miles down the road when the wind blows from the right direction.

“When that stuff has been spread and the wind blows down from the northwest, I’ll get a lot of calls of people complaining about the smell,” said Toni Richardson, city administrator of Aurora, located about seven miles east of the farm in question.

Going back to 2004, Lambert has filed odor and runoff complaints about Renda with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

“Renda follows all regulations outlined by the TCEQ,” said spokesman Ben Davis in a statement.

Renda Environmental has contracted with the city of Fort Worth since 1991 to spread the sludge. The company website however says, “It has represented a low-cost solution for the city and has produced unmistakable benefits for local farmers.”

“It’s a good fertilizer,” agrees Lambert, “but the smell is horrible and when it rains, it runs down directly into my property.”

Lambert wants to see tougher regulations that will cut down on the smell, as well as buffers or berms put into place that will effectively prevent the waste from running off onto his property and into waterways.

“It runs down into Walnut Creek, which runs into the West Fork of the Trinity River which eventually runs into Eagle Mountain and Lake Worth.”

State Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) agrees with Lambert.

“I believe the regulations on waste dumping are clearly insufficient, and I requested that TCEQ strengthen these rules,” King said.

King has worked with Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and the TCEQ to end all further dumping “pending further investigation.”

“The cows eat it, and we eat the cows,” Lambert said. “They don’t even know what all is in it.”

A growing number of citizens, along with elected officials in both Parker and Wise counties, have escalated the number of complaints this last year. Growth in the area may be contributing to more complaints about the smell. New homes are going in on land that used to be rural.

“Parker and Wise County officials have been very engaged in responding to this problem,” King said. “We are working together to see this process through to a positive outcome.”

TCEQ plans on several meetings to address the issue. The first was held Tuesday night in Springtown. Scores of residents and elected officials from Parker and Wise counties attended the meeting, including Lambert, who hopes tougher regulations will be put in place regarding the use of biosolids.

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