Sludge is quickly becoming a dirty word in Upper Mount Bethel Township, as residents continue to rail against the possibility of local farmers spreading fertilizer containing human waste and heavy metals.
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania non-profit company and public interest law firm, presented a Community Bill of Rights ordinance to township supervisors for future consideration during Monday night's reorganization meeting at Bangor Middle School.
Community bills of rights have been successful in many Pennsylvania communities, including Tamaqua, effectively halting environmental threats such as fracking, coal mining and other environmental issues.
Chad Nicholson, the group's Pennsylvania organizer, told supervisors and about 200 residents that members of the community who are affected should be the ones to make decisions on whether substances like sludge should be used on township farms.
"Your supervisors are in a tight spot," Nicholson said. "There's a carefully constructed legal system that puts them in a tight box. There's a state pre-emption law that prevents them from having any say. The DEP permits things to happen that would be illegal without that permit. People from second class townships are made to feel like second class citizens.
At issue is whether township farmers, including former Northampton County Councilman Ron Angle, should be allowed to spread biosolid fertilizer made from human waste on farmland throughout Upper Mount Bethel Township.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection allows the use of biosolid fertilizer and famers in Lower Mount Bethel Township are currently using it. DEP laws allow farmers to spread the so-called sludge within 300 feet of a residence and water wells.
Township solicitor, Ron Karasek, previously informed supervisors that challenging DEP laws would be futile. Karasek was not present at Monday night's meeting.
"You can either do nothing, try to work with the regulation agencies and Harrisburg or adopt a Community Bill of Rights. Your fundamental rights are higher than state law. You can create a new conversation with sludge corporations, Harrisburg or Washington, D.C.," Nicholson said.
The proposed ordinance states that the disposal of sludge violates the rights of residents. It also states that the application of sewage sludge is a waste disposal activity and not a normal agricultural activity.
The proposed ordinance also states that Upper Mount Bethel Township or any township resident can enforce a sludge ban by action brought through Northampton County Court.
That clause rankled Angle, who told supervisors and Nicholson that passing such an ordinance would be tantamount to "living in a third world country with mob rule."
"If you get one vote from this board (for the ordinance), you'd better check the quality of the water in this township," Angle said. "This is anti-corporation." Angle also brandished a copy of a recent tax return of the non-profit firm and accused them of taking money from the DEP.
In late December, supervisors said they might consider subsidizing the use of fertilizer that doesn't contain human waste and/or heavy metals.
"Subsidies are still on the table," said supervisor Jerry Geake. "At our next meeting next week, we're going to try and come up with figures that will satisfy everyone and make this issue go away. We're not big on going in on a frontal attack (against biosolids)."
In other business, the board elected Joseph Batillo as chairman for 2014, replacing Judith Henckel who was defeated in the May, 2013 primary election.
Angle was named to the township's Zoning Hearing Board by supervisors, who asked that he immediately resign from his position on the Planning Board, which Angle did.