VALPARAISO | The city's Utilities Board tabled a proposal Tuesday to hire consultants Black & Veatch to do a feasibility study and project design for a facility to compost treated sewage sludge.
The board spends about $200,000 a year to spread the treated sludge on area farm fields. Utility Director Steve Poulos told the board composting the sludge for use as a landscaping material, which could be sold for a profit, is an idea the department has been discussing and experimenting with since 2005.
Poulos said most of the cost of applying the material is the fuel costs to haul it to the sites, and the overall cost has increased 43 percent since 2006. Although the city has a state permit to continue land application through 2019, Poulos said there's always a risk the regulations will change or that opposition to the process could force a moratorium on land application.
The experiments conducted at the treatment plant have come up with what seems to be the right recipe of dried sludge and wood chips that produces a nutrient-rich compost that exceeds the safety standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
The Black & Veatch study would cost $163,500 and look at the composting recipe and test things like odor control and the availability of wood chips. The consultants would look at the project's cost effectiveness, regulatory compliance, acceptance by the public and identify the market.
They also would design the facilities and equipment needed to produce the compost and provide construction cost estimates. Poulos said a preliminary estimate of the cost of the facilities was $2 million to $3 million. He said no grant money is available at this point, but the consultants would look into those possibilities too.
Utilities board members were concerned about the cost of the study and the fact it could end with another bill to build the facilities when the payback from savings could be 20 or 30 years. Some members said they wanted to view other cities that compost their sludge before deciding.