Residents of Miller Road in the Sunshine Valley Estates west of Merritt are raising concerns regarding the intent to spread biosolids as compost on a piece of property near their homes.

Biosolids are the solid waste left over after sewage is treated at a water treatment facility.

The piece of land in question is a 320-acre property on Woodward Road in Area M of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, which was recently purchased by BioCentral — the sister company of Agassiz-based construction company Timbro Construction, which offers services in wastewater treatment, and sludge removal.

The Woodward Road property is located on a hill above a housing development.

No biosolids have been spread on the property yet.

Sunshine Valley Estates resident Georgia Clement said she and her neighbours are concerned that biosolids will harm their air quality, contaminate their water and devalue their properties.

She said they are also concerned the Merritt area will become known as a dumping ground for waste.

Clement told the Herald the site BioCentral intends to spread biosolids on is above an aquifer which the housing development derives its drinking water from.

Neil Caine, chairman of the Sunshine Valley Estates water board, said the Woodward Road property is in this aquifer.

Caine said he’s opposed to spreading biosolids there because of the presence of two creeks that run through the Woodward Road property, which replenish the aquifer and designate it as a watershed.

Waneta Murphy, another resident of the Sunshine Valley, said she has had a petition circulating against biosolids coming here from outside the Nicola Valley. That petition is said to have almost 700 signatures.

TNRD Area M director Randy Murray said he’s had approval from the TNRD’s board of directors to create a workshop that will address land use issues regarding biosolids, and give feedback to the provincial government.

Murray said he wants to know if biosolids are being tested enough for contaminants.

He said he also has concerns regarding the impact this practice will have on tourism and property values.

“A lot of the things I’m seeing, that I have to deal with, are from a policy perspective and a change of policy perspective between layers of government,” Murray said.

Murray said the regional government doesn’t have to be informed of this type of land use as the Ministry of Environment is.

The Ministry of Environment and Interior Health Authorities are the two provincial bodies that need to be notified of the intent to spread biosolids on a piece of land under the Organic Materials Recycling Regulation, IHA health protection team leader Mike Adams said.

There are two types of biosolids listed under that regulation: Class A biosolids and Class B biosolids, which differ primarily based on the difference in fecal coliform count and level of metals contained in the matter.

BioCentral owner Andres Murillo said the company intends to spread Class A biosolids on the Woodward Road property in order to help grow grass for grazing cows.

Murillo said no more than an inch of the biosolids will be spread once per year on the property. He said his company’s biosolids have a fecal coliform count of under one fecal coliform per gram — well under the Class A maximum of 1,000 fecal coliform count per gram. He also said for every gram of biosolids, there are 27 micrograms of lead. The regulation allows for lead up to 500 micrograms.

To be permitted to apply biosolids to the land, BioCentral must meet the requirements outlined in the OMRR, including those related to pathogen reduction.

Murillo said they submit reports to the Ministry of Environment on a regular basis, too.

“It’s regulated. It is actually heavily regulated,” Murillo said.

Companies notify the IHA of intent to spread biosolids, and the health authority has 30 days to reply to the notification, the IHA’s Mike Adams said. He confirmed IHA has until Dec. 18 to reply to the notification for the Woodward Road property.

IHA looks at potential setbacks to drinking water resources and confirms the company’s testing methods for the specified classification of biosolids is correct, Adams said.

Nearby surface and groundwater sources and wells impacted by the application of biosolids are considered by IHA in this process, Adams said.

“For us, when we’re looking at sensitive areas for drinking water, it’s within 100 metres of a surface water source or a ground water intake,” Adams said.

The well the Sunshine Valley Estates housing development draws its water from is about two kilometres away from where BioCentral intends to spread the biosolids, Adams said.

Adams said IHA staff have visited the Woodward Road site, and the creeks might be closer than two kilometres.

BioCentral recently closed contracts to bring biosolids from the Westside Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Kelowna and the Abbotsford Mission Environmental Systems Wastewater Treatment Plant to its composting facility on Sunshine Valley Road.

Murillo said they will not be spreading the biosolids near the water sources on the Woodward Road property, and although they are processed in the Merritt area, not all of it is spread on lands here. He said some of the biosolids are spread on land the company owns in the Lower Mainland area, too.

Murillo said he is open to talking to people who are concerned about biosolids.

BioCentral’s $1.15 million deal with the Regional District of Central Okanagan to acquire biosolids from the Westside Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant came about after the IHA halted plans to continue dumping biosolids at the Brenda Mine, located above Peachland. The biosolids were proposed to be used as fertilizer on areas being re-vegetated there.

However, Peachland’s district council opposed that idea, citing concerns about impacts to the town’s watershed. The IHA determined the plan for the proposed treatment and use at Brenda Mine was insufficient to protect drinking water if “an extreme wet weather event” took place.

Though the site of the biosolids is about 20 kilometres away from the Peachland boundary, a creek that contributes to the town’s drinking water was about 12 kilometres away from the biosolids site.

Concerned residents from the Sunshine Valley related the recent decision by IHA to stop the spreading of biosolids at Brenda Mine because of drinking water concerns to the situation in the Nicola Valley.

“From our perspective, it’s not much different,” Murray said of the Brenda Mine and Woodward Road situations.