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Brookings, Oregon–A Small Community Copes with Public Concerns and a Changing Biosolids Program Strategy

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The City of Brookings (City) made national news within the biosolids industry via the internet in 2005. The issue was public opposition to biosolids land application on a farm adjacent to the Chetco River. Brookings produces less than 150 dry tons of Class B, anaerobically digested biosolids. But at less than 2 percent solids, the volume was perceived as substantial by neighbors of the application site. The City Council was petitioned and the future of the land application program became political. In spite of support for the program from the state regulatory agency and impending rate increases to implement an alternative program, the City Council decided that land application at the site should cease.

Ironically, Brookings has one of the better biosolids management programs on the Oregon coast. New anaerobic digestion was constructed within the last 5 years and a 2-million gallon (MG) digested biosolids storage tank ensures that land application in the wet winter months can be avoided. The primary land application site was a private 300-acre ranch less than 10 miles from the treatment facility. The site was uniquely suitable due to level topography and accessibility. Alternative sites are generally steep and forested, requiring application via large-bore sprinkler systems. These alternative sites have been considered useful for contingency purposes, but not adequate for full-scale application.

An alternatives evaluation was conducted to determine cost and feasibility of alternatives for the biosolids program. Alternatives included a substantial upgrade in solids processing and shipping product to a neighboring community for contract dewatering and composting. The latter option was selected for short-term implementation. Additional evaluation of dewatering and further processing alternatives to achieve Class A product status was then considered in a subsequent predesign effort.

Hauling biosolids slurry to another facility tripled the operating budget. The City Council majority decided this was more acceptable than risking adverse effects on public health or the environment. How did the council become convinced that the existing program presented a risk? They weighed the pros and cons and made individual decisions as part of the political process. In hindsight, a more proactive involvement of council members in the operation would have been beneficial. But these are citizen volunteers with limited time, and the resources of the Brookings Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) staff are even more limited.

A history of the Brookings facility and program is presented in this paper, along with alternative costs and lessons learned. The paper provides an example of how circumstances change, and reinforces the value of program diversity and communication within the biosolids community. A summary of the preliminary design analysis of alternatives for upgrading the facility is also presented. The recommended technology is a Class A capable screw press dewatering system. City Council review and approval are pending at this time.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2006-01-01

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