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Permit Battle Looms for Waste-Spreading on Farm Fields

Environmental Land Management, an Austin, Minn.,-based company, wants to spread up to 19,000 tons a year of byproduct from a John Morrell hog processing plant onto farm fields in South Dakota.

The firm has applied for a conditional use permit to put the dried, treated wastewater byproduct, which currently goes to the landfill, onto farm fields, reported the Argus Leader. The Minnehaha County planning commission will consider the permit application on Monday.

The county planning commission is recommending the permit be denied, saying its proposed use has a potential for odors, additional heavy traffic to transport the material and would be a nuisance for surrounding properties, the AP reported.

ELM execs argue the byproduct is a valuable free fertilizer supplement that “looks like coffee grounds” and does not have an odor.

ELM, which was once based in Boulder, Colo., has worked with Hormel Foods Corp for years to reuse its waste byproduct and spread it on farm fields. The company spreads the fertilizer product for free and charges the generating company, in this case Hormel, a fee, which is still less than what it would pay to send the waste to a landfill, according to ELM.

Hormel diverted more than 72 percent of waste in 2011 from its landfill through recycling and land-spreading of byproducts, which farmers use as soil nutrients, according to its 2011 corporate responsibility report.

Companies are finding a variety of ways to put wastewater to productive use, some of it more controversial than others. Ameresco and the Philadelphia Water Department announced last year they will design, build and maintain a $47.5 million wastewater biogas-to-energy facility capable of generating 5.6 MW of power and reducing PWD’s energy costs by more than $12 million over 16 years.

Arizona Snowbowl has launched a more controversial plan. The ski resort has been using sewage effluent for snow-making, though a report has found that the system is a potential breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Meanwhile, Kansas City’s Water Services department has generated $2.1 million in net income over the past six years by reusing human waste as fertilizer on its own city-run biofuel farm – turning an expense into a revenue generator.

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