The county council heard testimony last night on the reintroduced bill allowing industrial-scale mulching and composting on agricultural land. The bill passed the council last session but was deemed invalid due to a scheduling error. It is unlikely that the bill will be voted down and for this reason I am pushing for strong health and safety amendments. Here is my testimony presented at the hearing last night:
We are all in a Yogi Berra moment: it feels like deja-vu all over again. We get to argue all the same points and feel all the same frustrations and fears. Can we do District 5 residents a favor and stop making them drive all this way twice a year just to get irritated with each other?
There were opportunities last year to reach consensus, to create an additional revenue stream for agricultural land and to do it in an environmentally responsible way. Several health and safety amendments were proposed last year that would have minimized the risks of solid-waste processing. And each of those health and safety amendments was voted down.
Because the science was denied.
Because the health risks were dismissed.
Because protecting the groundwater and the air is inconvenient and expensive.
Luckily I’m a fighter, and I am here again to say that this bill badly needs health and safety controls. It is right to err on the side of caution. It is right to look to the industry’s best practices. We are an overachieving county and we can overachieve in our efforts to protect the health and safety of our residents.
And when it comes to helping our farmers navigate a volatile industry and survive in an increasingly suburbanized county, we can do that too BUT this is not the way.
Let’s start overachieving with these amendments:
• Reduce the activity’s allowable acreage -- Currently the MDE allows 5000 square feet of mulch and compost for farming purposes. That is 0.1 acre. This bill proposes 5 acres. Studies have shown that water contamination occurred at solid-waste processing sites of a little more than 1 acre. Use that range as your guide to determine safe amounts near private wells.
• Increase setbacks – The bill proposes setbacks from schools of only 500 feet. Protect the respiratory health of school children by increasing setbacks.
• Require access to highways – I was encouraged to see the change in CB-21 that required direct highway access for combined mulching and composting facilities. Extend direct highway access to separate facilities too.
• Close the loopholes – Add ownership requirements to keep farmland from becoming cheap industrial zones.
• Monitor and remediate – Follow the guidelines proposed by other states and create a monitoring system for trace elements. Provide financial assistance or fines for remediation. In cases of contamination, this financial burden should not fall on the private well owner.
Thanks for your time and consideration.