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“The Best Defense is a Good Offense” Dealing with Outrage before it Explodes!

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The use of treated sewage solids or “biosolids” for its fertilizing properties has made a resurgence among water industry professionals, farmers and horticulturists in recent years. However, the use of this beneficial material on rural land has come in conflict with urban sprawl. Negative public perception related to biosolids recycling has resulted in many community members raising nuisance complaints to local officials. Determining how to deal with outrage before it becomes unmanageable has been a major stumbling block to the sustainable biosolids recycling program.

The Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) was recently made aware of anticipated nuisance concerns when we starting receiving complaints about OCSD's interest in a proposed biosolids compost project. The complaints came from outraged citizens who lived near the proposed compost site and feared what this type of facility would do to their neighborhood.

The reason these individuals were so upset was because an anonymous flyer with fictitious, inflammatory, and negative information about the project was distributed to their community. It was at this point that OCSD and the compost site manager went on the offensive to begin a process of addressing this outrage before it exploded into something unmanageable. This proactive effort was accomplished through correspondence with upset community members, distribution of outreach material, and community meetings.

The results of this outreach were surprising, and at first appeared to have backfired. However, we believe that most of the outrage faded because we responded to community members concerns immediately, were able to address the perception issues and nuisance concerns through various means and began to develop relationships with the affected community.

The agency gathered the letters and phone messages from these community members and corresponded with every single person. Phone calls we returned with phone calls and letters with letters. We took the time to explain to these individuals about our agency, biosolids, and numerous regulations, the proposed project, and answered all the allegations in the flyer. In many cases we gave community members the names and numbers of staff at regulatory agencies that oversee biosolids management and composting so they could independently verify what we were saying about governing regulations and oversight. We also forwarded the letters and phone messages to the manager of the compost site so he could also speak to these individuals.

Following up with the initial correspondence we assisted the compost site manager with hosting community meetings to explain the project in detail and address additional concerns. We also developed a fact sheet on the proposed compost site that explained the project, OCSD's interest in it, and that we were committed to enclosure and biofilters to limit odors.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2003

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