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Farmers talk facts on biosolids issue


Goodland hosts public hearing on ordinance to limit


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Kip Siegler says the quality of milk his cows produce prove that there’s nothing harmful in the biosolids applied to their farm fields. A May 12 public hearing is scheduled for Goodland’s proposed ordinance restricting biosolid use. photo by Maria Brown.

May 05, 2010
GOODLAND TWP. — Only one other township in the entire state of Michigan has successfully enacted an ordinance to limit land application of biosolids. Goodland Township hopes to become the second.

They've submitted their draft ordinance to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) and per state law, the Water Bureau will hold a public hearing regarding the ordinance at the Goodland Township hall on May 12 at 7 p.m.

In attendance will be dairy farmer Jeff Siegler who's applied biosolids to his farmland in both Goodland and Imlay townships for the last 20 years. Biosolids is the term used for treated sewage sludge. He can't understand why Goodland wants to challenge a practice that's strictly monitored and approved for use by the state.

"We've never had to speak up in our defense before," Jeff said.

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"It's unfortunate that the information is getting all twisted around."

His son, Kip, calls the situation "sad." Kip and brother, Mark are the third generation of farmers in the Siegler family.

In January, township officials adopted a resolution to submit a draft ordinance to the DNRE restricting the application of biosolids. Both citizens and board members have voiced environmental and health concerns such as runoff into waterways and the possibility of pharmaceuticals in the sludge. Goodland claims they are unique considering the diversity of crops that are grown in the township.

If Goodland officials want proof biosolids are safe, they need only take a look at the flourisihng Siegler farm, the family contends.

"Our milk gets tested every day, all 10,000 gallons of it," said Kip.

"We are producing some of the highest quality milk we ever have in the last 30 years—a 98 out of 100 on a grade A survey. Don't you think that if something was wrong it would show up in our milk?"

The Sieglers farm 1,200 acres and they milk 185 cows.

Before talk of restrictions even surfaced, Michigan State University researchers asked if they could monitor Sieglers' fields for possible runoff issues.

"Every time it would rain they would come out here and check our tile lines," Jeff said of a Sisson Road field where they had applied both biosolids and cow manure.

"They found nothing."

Kip adds that the Sieglers all live near the farm and on property where biosolids are used. If they were concerned about polluted water, they wouldn't be allowing the practice.

"We drink this water too," Kip said.

"Our goal is to live long, healthy lives."

The issue made headlines last summer when biosolids were surface applied to an alfalfa field. Jeff said Department of Environmental Quality officials were present when the application was made. Jeff said he worked it into the ground just as the state stipulates.

• • •

James Johnson of the DNRE said next week's public hearing will give everyone a chance to voice their opinion on the matter and present evidence regarding the decision which will ultimately be made by the Water Bureau and DNRE.

"The state is the primary regulatory agency over land application of biosolids," he said.

Johnson said the ordinance can either be approved, denied or amended.

Only one government body has challenged the state's authority when it comes to biosolids. Johnson said that Spencer Township in Kent County sued when the Department of Environmental Quality denied their resolution to restrict all biosolid applications. A local judge sided with the township and the DEQ chose not to appeal.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.
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