Editorial: Innovative approach to costly sludge problem worth considering

  • The Bar Way Farm in Deerfield’s waste digester encompasses technology that could, and should, be applied to the valley’s sludge problem. RECORDER FILE/Paul Franz

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Greenfield DPW head Donald Ouellette has been
thinking outside the box when it comes to sludge

Sludge is the end product of a sewage treatment plant, something towns are tasked with disposing of. For Greenfield, this means hauling it off in trucks that take it to increasingly distant destinations for incineration or burial. Distance equals money, and in recent years the cost of sludge removal has risen from $180,000 in 2015, to $220,000 in 2016, to $320,000 in 2017. The projected cost for 2018 is $400,000. Extrapolating from there, Greenfield can expect to pay half a million dollars in the foreseeable future just to get rid of its sludge.

Hence, Ouellette’s innovative proposal to build an anaerobic digester that would turn the sludge into a usable byproduct, all while eliminating those transportation fees. Greenfield has to look no farther than neighboring Deerfield, where a digester at Bar Way Farm converts manure and other organic waste into methane, fertilizer and a form of bedding that can be used on the farm, for an example of such technology in action.

Because the cost is estimated at $6 million, grant funding is a necessity. Already, the city has been turned down by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, in yet another example of the outside impetus for regionalization, Greenfield thinks its proposal might find favor if it encompasses other small towns in a joint endeavor. Thus, Ouellette’s current vision is for a regional sludge digester.

Greenfield is not alone in its dilemma: Every town with a wastewater treatment plant has to deal with its sludge. Consequently, Ouellette and Mayor William Martin have been making the pitch to other towns, with letters of support garnered so far from Montague, Deerfield, Sunderland, Northfield and Hadley, Ouellette said.

The next step in a long road is a feasibility study with its regional partners. Ouellette optimistically hopes that this could be completed within two years. Likely, the towns involved will have to chip in money for such a study. But Ouellette thinks once they see their next rates on sludge disposal, they may be more willing to get on board.

In the eyes of a funder, an innovative idea that can be replicated elsewhere is more attractive and has better chances of winning a USDA grant. A regional anaerobic digester to deal with sludge is just such an innovative idea. With a proposed 15 percent hike to the city’s sewer rate, something has to be done to rein in costs, and this could be it.