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Published February 17, 2010, 12:00 AM

Commission: 'City should work with farmers'

There's no need for Red Wing to spend $1.75 million for land along Mt. Carmel Road to use as a disposal site for treated wastewater sludge, some neighborhood residents say.

By: Jon Swedien, The Republican Eagle

There's no need for Red Wing to spend $1.75 million for land along Mt. Carmel Road to use as a disposal site for treated wastewater sludge, some neighborhood residents say.

Plenty of local farmers would be interested in taking the city's sludge, they say, to use as a fertilizer.

"The short-term solution should be to partner with farmers," Mt. Carmel resident John Sachen told the Red Wing Planning Commission on Tuesday.

The commission agreed.

It voted a unanimous recommendation asking the City Council to reject a proposal to buy 340 acres at 6063 Mt. Carmel Road.

The commission had been charged with seeing if the proposed land purchase conformed to Red Wing's comprehensive plan. It decided the proposal did not because the comprehensive plan calls on the city to make public-private partnerships when beneficial.

Commissioners and residents alike said such partnerships could save the city money.

The issue has been a thorn in the city's side recently because the Public Works Department struggles to store and dispose of all of Red Wing's sludge.

Some of the city's sludge is applied to farms in Vasa and Hay Creek townships in the spring and fall.

But the city doesn't have enough storage space to make it from spring to fall, and has to ship sludge elsewhere, which is more costly.

Partnerships or lease agreements with farmers could potentially alleviate that problem, said Deputy Director of Utilities Bob Stark — the city's de facto guru on biosolids, the term given to the leftover sludge produced by municipal wastewater treatment.

But Stark was somewhat hesitant to say so.

Partnerships are often very loose, Stark said. They could dissolve and possibly leave the city with no place to take its sludge, he said. That's because other communities might not always be able to take Red Wing's sludge.

Owning the land would give the city more security, Stark said. If the city buys the land it plans to lease it to a farmer.

Residents said Tuesday the city didn't do enough earlier to communicate with farmers on this issue.

But now some Mt. Carmel residents have taken it upon themselves to help introduce public works officials to local farmers.

Whether Red Wing buys land for a disposal site or works out deals with area farmers, city officials ultimately want to build a higher-grade biosolids facility.

That type of facility would produce type A biosolids, a less voluminous sludge than type B biosolids, which Red Wing produces. Type B biosolids are also more heavily regulated when applied to land.

How long it takes to build depends largely on how long it takes to finance.

A new facility would cost $4 million to $8 million, according to city officials.

The council is expected to make a decision on the proposed land purchase at its meeting Monday.

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