Nixon Mayor Maria Blanche reads from prepared remarks during a March 28 hearing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality about a proposal for a nearby landowner to use human septage to fertilize a hay field.
Wilson County News April 3, 2013 2,652 views 3 comments
FLORESVILLE -- Opposition continues to fester over a proposal to dump human septage annually in the volume of up to 76,000 gallons per acre, for use as fertilizer, on an approximately 298.3-acre hayfield on C.R. 483. The property is located near the intersection of U.S. 87 and South Rancho Road in Nixon.
The property straddles the Wilson-Gonzales county line, which is why residents from both counties packed the courtroom of the Wilson County Criminal Justice Center in Floresville for a March 28 public hearing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). But the applicant, Austin-area resident Gordon Swenson -- who owns the property, along with Nixon Feed in Nixon -- was not among them. Instead, engineer Donald Rauschuber and attorney Randall Wilburn represented Swenson.
In Rauschuber’s presentation at the beginning of the hearing, the engineer said that the septage proposed for use in the plan would come only from residential septic tanks, and not from portable toilets or commercial sites. Irreducable solids that are removed from the tank are treated with lime and used as fertilizer for non-food crops such as hay, he said.
Rauschuber also said that the proposed site meets or exceeds all required setbacks, which require at least a 150-foot buffer for private wells. Public water supplies require a minimum buffer of 500 feet.
Despite this explanation, public officials -- including Nixon Mayor Maria Blanche -- expressed strong opposition to Swenson’s plan. She asked that he withdraw the application.
“The thought of such things being dumped where people live is unthinkable,” Blanche said.
Diane Savage, who sits on area water boards including the Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District, asked if Evergreen was consulted about how Swenson’s plan could affect the groundwater. TCEQ representative April Hoh said Evergreen was not contacted, to which Savage alleged this constituted a hole in the application.
Area rancher Dr. Jim Story, who also is a neurologist, railed against the proposal, which he called “fanciful and unsupported by scientific fact.”
“Residential septage is rife with [viruses] and remnants of illegal drugs, heavy metals, and other substances,” he said.
Lime might aid in mitigating odors, but Story said its alkalinity fails to kill organisms such as spores and tuberculin, which can survive for months or even years. Ultraviolet light, which kills these organisms, he said, will have no effect if the organisms are covered by soil, vegetation, or solid waste.
“You are seeking a legal sanction to toss a disease time bomb into Nixon and the surrounding area -- literally a bomb -- into the living rooms of everyone in the area,” Story said.
To date, boards of trustees for school districts in Nixon-Smiley, Floresville, Poth, and Stockdale, along with the Wilson County Commissioners Court and the Nixon Hospital District, have passed resolutions in opposition of Swenson’s proposal.
TCEQ representatives said Swenson’s application is in the “technical review” phase, and that any comments from the hearing will be taken into consideration. Any questions read into the record will be formally answered in writing.
TCEQ attorney Tim Reedy said all those who provided addresses to the agency at the hearing will receive notices via mail related to future developments. Swenson’s application now must complete the technical review, before a decision is made whether to approve or deny it.
A final decision letter then will be sent to all those on the mailing list, with instructions on how to file a motion to overturn the executive director’s decision, Reedy said.
What is septage?
According to engineer Donald Rauschuber’s presentation March 28, septage is the irreducible solids left in a septic tank after treatment. These solids are periodically pumped from the tank to prevent them from settling and eventually filling the tank, because residential septic tanks are designed to retain sludge for 1 to 3 years.