During a public meeting last night on a proposal to spread sewage sludge on 137 acres of farmland in Jacksonville near the Loch Raven Reservoir, one resident said, "We all came here to tell you we don't want it. We think it's wrong."
An exasperated Martin Walsh, Maryland secretary of the environment, shot back: "Do you want to tell me where I should put it?" Then he winced as the 140 or so residents exploded with laughter.
"I know where you can put it," one resident said.
That was about the only humor that surfaced at the public meeting at Warren Elementary School as residents scorched Walsh and other state officials for considering a proposal to spread sewage sludge from the city-run Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant on land close to the Loch Raven watershed.
In the end, Walsh agreed to a proposal by state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Balto. Co., to put the sludge permit on indefinite hold so that a residents group can go over the state's figures in closer detail.
The proposal is for Enviro-Gro Technologies, a city sludge management firm, to spread 4 to 8 dry tons of sewage sludge from the treatment plant on state-owned farmland adjacent to the Loch Raven watershed.
Steve Piper, who farms the land, requested the sludge for fertilizer.
Although Walsh brought charts and graphics to show how the heavy metals in Back River's sludge has been reduced drastically in the last 10 years, residents were not satisfied.
They questioned the decision to spread sludge on land the state purchased 15 years ago to protect the watershed from runoff from a housing development.
And residents wanted to know what assurances they would have that chemicals in the sludge, such things as copper, cadmium, nickel, lead and nitrates, would not leak into ground water.
Bromwell wanted to know who would be liable for contaminated wells, since the state owns the land and cannot be sued for damages.
Richard McQuaid, a retired chemist who is president of the Maryland Line Area Association, closely questioned Douglas Proctor, a state environmental official, about the exact crops that would be planted on the farmland.
Proctor said it would be up to Piper.
McQuaid said that 4 to 8 tons an acre was way too much, that 1 or 2 tons an acre was the proper level to avoid overloading the soil with nitrates.
He said it was important to know exactly what crop would be grown on what land, since corn uses more nitrogen than crops like barley and wheat.
Unsatisfied with Walsh and Proctor's responses to his questions, McQuaid ended his remarks by stating, "You aren't giving us any answers. You're giving us a snow job."
The residents applauded.