Victory! Washington Court Upholds Biosolids Application

A Washington Court of Appeals decision strikes down a county ban on the application of Class B biosolids.

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Biosolids earned a legal victory this month when the Washington Court of Appeals struck down a Wahkiakum County ban on the land application of Class B biosolids. The 3-0 ruling was decisive, siding with the state’s Department of Ecology, which argued a locality could not overrule a state program.

In 2011, Wahkiakum County created the ban after residents expressed concern about the health of fish and wildlife populations in the county. Residents also worried that land-applied biosolids could infiltrate drinking water supplies in the event of extreme flooding. The ordinance applied only to Class B biosolids.

The DOE maintained biosolids contain beneficial nutrients and are therefore appropriate for improving soil condition.

“Responsibly using biosolids as a soil nutrient was mandated by the Legislature in 1992 when it unanimously passed a law directing Ecology to establish a program to manage the solids resulting from municipal sewage,” says Laurie Davies, manager of the department’s Waste 2 Resources Program, in a Wahkiakum County Eagle article.

In October 2013, a Cowlitz County Superior Court judge upheld the ordinance. The DOE filed an appeal on March 11, 2014.

The Court of Appeals ruled the ban was unconstitutional and conflicted with state law, which marks a significant victory for the state program. In the appeals court decision, Judge Linda Lee wrote, “Farmers have come to rely on the well-established and uniform state regulation of land application of biosolids for planning and investment.”

According to the County Eagle, Wahkiakum County officials plan to appeal the decision to the state supreme court.

“The general idea behind county government is that for local issues — and the local ecology is particularly a local issue — there should be local people making local laws,” says Wahkiakum County prosecutor Dan Bigelow in The Daily News Online. “We feel this is legitimately one of those, but the state doesn’t think so.”

The Washington Association of Sewer and Water Districts, the Northwest Biosolids Management Association and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies supported the DOE’s position during the legal hearings.


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