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AG urges sludge ordinance changes

Published July 09. 2018 05:20PM

The Attorney General’s office has weighed in on an East Penn Township ordinance that is key to a dispute over the use of treated sewage sludge on a local farm.

The agency is urging the township to change its ordinance to comply with state law, or possibly face a lawsuit.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Robert A. Willig issued a letter late last month regarding his ongoing review of township ordinance 77, which regulates the use and transport of waste, including sewage sludge.

In his letter, Willig said that state courts have determined that biosolids are a “normal agricultural operation” and a state law known as the Agricultural Communities Rural Education Act prohibits townships from making or enforcing ordinances that are more stringent than the state’s own regulations.

“East Penn contends that the use of biosolids does not constitute (a normal agricultural operation), therefore ACRE does not even apply,” Willig wrote. “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has conclusively spoken on this issue when it held that ‘the use of biosolids of fertilizer falls within the definition of an NAO.’ ”

The township supervisors said at the meeting this week that the letter from the Attorney General’s Office was not a shock.

But Chairman William Schwab noted that Willig did not include specifics about why Ordinance 77 violates ACRE.

Schwab said the Attorney General’s office misstated the purpose of the ordinance, which was passed during a previous dispute over the use of biosolids.

“That was about 25 years ago. We adopted it to regulate what was going over our roads and things of that nature,” he said.

Willig started his review after a request from a family whose farm has been proposed as a site to use biosolids. Dennis Cunfer’s family farm has been approved by the Department of Environmental Protection for the use of treated sewage sludge, aka biosolids, as fertilizer. Synagro Inc. has proposed using treated sludge, aka biosolids, on an East Penn Township farm owned by Dennis Cunfer and family.

Cunfer’s daughter-in-law, Katherine Hetherington-Cunfer, asked the Attorney General’s Office to review ordinance 77, while DEP was reviewing Synagro’s application.

Meanwhile, the township is currently suing the Cunfers and Synagro for failing to comply with ordinance 77. The Cunfers and Synagro both filed requests for judgment against the township late last month, arguing among other points, that the ordinance is not valid because of ACRE.

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