Newport grapples with biosolids

Tim Gross, city engineer and public works director for the City of Newport, hands members of the audience a glass jar of Class A biosolids treated at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. (Photo by Madeline Shannon)

NEWPORT — Betty Kamikawa wants water in her water.

“I paid for clean water, and I want my clean water,” Kamikawa said. “I don’t want it to have a whole bunch of stuff in it that’s not supposed to be in it. I don’t want any of that stuff in my water.”

The former agronomist with years of experience working with biosolids spoke with several others from the east part of the county about the ongoing contention between Logsden residents who say the Siletz River is choking to death on biosolids, which they call sewage sludge, and farmers who take Class A biosolids from the city to spread on farmland. 

While farmers and city officials maintain their right to spread high-quality biosolids on farmland, those who live along the river see the aquatic life in the river diminishing the longer farmers in Toledo, Logsden and Siletz accept biosolids from Newport. 

“The EPA and the DEQ can’t say this is safe anymore — not until it’s assessed,” said Kayleen Davis, who lives on the river with her husband, Alan. “To be assessed, we need guinea pigs, and guess who the guinea pigs are?”

The Davis family, along with others who advocate for a stop to the spreading of biosolids on agricultural land in the east part of the county, spent the last several months conducting research and collecting studies and reports on biosolids in other areas of the country in an effort to show local government agencies how dangerous biosolids can be.

However, farmers want to see proof biosolids are the culprit of the river they also see progressively dwindling.

“You start laying all this proof out there,” said local farmer Jeff Mann to critics of biosolids. “Not somewhere else, not in some cases. When you can come to a meeting and show what’s going on in the Siletz River and show this has a negative impact, then you’ll have something. Not just a phobic idea.”

Clifford Mann, another farmer in the east part of the county, uses biosolids from Newport on his farmland. He, too, sees the Siletz River dwindling to a shadow of its former self, but the heart of the issue isn’t biosolids, he said. It’s logging practices. 

“I believe the river is dying,” Clifford said. “It’s just not dying because of biosolids. It is dying because the river is too warm and the flows are too low. This has to do with logging practices on the Siletz River.”

The trace amounts of any chemicals that could be considered harmful, Clifford added, aren’t enough to have any effect on those who drink water from the river or eat food grown with Siletz River water. 

“I live on those farms,” Clifford said. “I eat the animals and I raise the animals. We don’t have problems with our animals. They’re healthy, and so are we.”

Those who work at the Newport wastewater treatment plant distinguish between Class A and Class B biosolids, saying Class A biosolids — those produced by Newport and distributed to farmers in Toledo, Siletz and Logsden — are safe to spread. 

“There’s a lot of accusations about biosolids, but biosolids are a net environmental gain,” said Andrew Grant, wastewater treatment plant supervisor. “They’re natural, they’re safe and they’re available. The farmers can let you know how effective the biosolids are.”

Grant maintained the city tests soils on lands biosolids are spread on to ensure the city’s product is still safe to spread. However, some, like the Davises, are still hesitant to call the practice safe. 

“I no longer feel biosolids are something you want to do,” Kamikawa said. “There are better ways than biosolids. Ultra-high temperature gasification is the best way at this point.”

Some city officials, like Grant, disagree. 

“Alternatives to land application are not environmentally friendly,” said Grant. “Gasification is just a fancy way of saying ‘burn it.’ Landfiling is the most expensive option for us in Newport — we went through an alternatives analysis when we did the contract last year.”

Grant added the landfill wouldn’t accept biosolids from the city when Newport officials explored that option, saying it was too high in moisture.

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