A proposed septic storage site has caused a big uproar in a tiny Weld County community just south of the Wyoming border.
Sullivan Septic & Excavating, based in Mead, is trying to store sewage from Weld, Boulder and Larimer counties in tanks and on fields in Carr, an unincorporated community of only a few hundred people.
Residents have banded together to write petitions, submit letters and emails and turn out for permit meetings.
Their most prominent fear is the sewage will harm their water quality, both in the nearby streams and surrounding groundwater wells.
“If it destroys our wells … we can’t do anything,” said Mary Fenwick, one of the residents opposing the project.
They also fear air quality and odor problems, tank quality control and traffic issues.
Cynthia Sullivan, who owns the 21-year-old company with her husband, Kevin, said they pitched the project in Carr because they own 240 acres there.
They also already have three 20,000-gallon tanks on site and had to file for a permit with the planning department to start filling them, according to planning commission documents. They also have to file for a permit with the Weld County Health Department to spread the sewage over a field.
They haven’t done so yet, said Director of General Services Trevor Jiricek.
He helps the health department oversee regulations like this.
Applying waste to farmland is somewhat common in Weld County. There are two types of sewage that can be applied: septage and biosolids. Septage (what the Sullivans are trying to store) comes from septic tanks. It’s screened, which means it has plastics and other materials that aren’t biodegradable removed. Biosolids come from waste water treatment facilities. They’re screened, too, but they’re also treated afterward in various ways, which can include chlorination or aeration. Both kinds of waste can be spread over fields.
This practice isn’t only for storage.
“Land applying septage and biosolids is for its beneficial value,” Jiricek said. “It’s like fertilizer.”
In a given year, the health department grants from 180-200 biosolid application permits and maybe a handful of septage permits, he said. This isn’t a year-round process.
“There’s not 200 active sites at a time in our county ever,” he said.
Applying both biosolids and septage is usually a one-and-done deal, not something that happens continuously.
The county commissioners’ vote in a little less than two weeks will ultimately decide whether they can use the tanks. Because the case is ongoing, the commissioners declined to comment on it.
The planning commission, which acts as an adviser to the county commissioners, approved the project 7-2 in September. One of the “no” voters, Gene Stille, said he is familiar with the area and has concerns about water quality effects, according to planning commission documents.
From the beginning, residents have opposed the project.
“All we had was like two days before the meetings to get this organized,” Fenwick said.
Before the meeting, the planning commission received 35 letters and emails against the project. More than a dozen residents attended the meeting, and seven spoke against it.
During the meeting, commissioners added conditions to the permit request, such as required leak detection, and talked with engineers about how to mitigate potential damage.
“They never answered a single question (from residents),” Fenwick said. “They didn’t even ask our opinion, if that was going to satisfy us.”
The residents learned about the project from a notice on a lightly used back road. Fenwick said she thinks they should have put the notice in the post office, where more Carr residents would have seen it.
That’s not what the law calls for, said County Attorney Bruce Barker. It calls for a notice to the adjacent property owners, in the paper and on the property where the project is slated to go.
“They were thinking there should have been notice to — to my impression — everyone in Carr,” Barker said.
The septic storage would be the next link in a chain of industrial permit approvals in Carr, which residents have lamented.
“We moved here about six years ago, and there was nothing around here,” Fenwick said.
She said the only disturbance her family faced was the occasional train. In the past few years, gravel excavators and oil and gas sites have come.
Residents have various complaints about those, but the old developments aren’t their concern right now.
“This latest deal is the one that’s got us all upset,” she said.
The other sites can be loud and generate dust, but those grievances pale in comparison to worries they have about the danger posed to their water supply, she said.
Although she and the other residents plan to continue fighting the project with fervor, she said she doesn’t believe county officials will take their side because of all the projects approved in the past.
“We all have a big investment in our homes and trying to make our community better, and we just keep getting slapped in the face,” she said.