Some members receptive to resident's idea to use animals for cleansing treated sewage
By Sally Voth
Rather than pooh-poohing a local man's idea of cleansing treated sewage, several Front Royal Town Council members want to further explore the idea.
Jerry Scholder has spent two years hauling Class B biosolids from the town's wastewater treatment plant to his backyard. There, he spreads the waste in an enclosed bed and adds red worms.
The worms feed on the nutrients eight times a day and excrete a cleansed byproduct, rendering the Class B biosolids into Class A, which can be sold as fertilizer, Scholder said.
Class B biosolids may be spread on agricultural farmland, and a Remington company has applied to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for an expanded permit to do so in Warren County.
Scholder said his process, known as vermistabilization, is cheaper, more natural and more environmentally friendly than spreading, landfilling or incinerating Class B biosolids.
The worm waste is enclosed in a membrane, called a casting, and is beneficial to soil, according to Scholder.
Not only are all the harmful microbes contained in Class A biosolids dead, the castings aerate the soil, make it more porous, have humic substances -- which hold sand and clay together to form soil, according to Scholder's website, vermistabilization.com -- but they make plants and flowers grow bigger, Scholder said.
"We could revolutionize America's disposal of our organic waste," he said in an interview last week. "This is the way to really make a difference in the world."
Front Royal Town Manager Steve Burke said a consultant overseeing an estimated $40 million in upgrades at the treatment plant has advised the town that vermistabilization is "very labor-intensive," and more suited to livestock manure.
Burke said the town is considering a "multi-million-dollar investment" to install equipment at the treatment plant that would convert Class B biosolids to Class A.
He said the town council has asked Scholder for a formal proposal and business plan. Scholder said Burke has prevented him from getting more Class B biosolids from the sewer plant.
Councilman Shae Parker said Scholder has come to the council several times over the past two years.
"As far as the process, I think it has its merits and its benefits," he said on Tuesday. "Will the worms replace the wastewater treatment center's process? I don't think so. Just from a standpoint [of] the volume that would need to be treated, I can't see it being a replacement, but I can see it being supplemental and perhaps even helping out with our horticultural program and helping to grow trees and plants and beautify the town."
Councilman Bret Hrbek wants to see an actual proposal from Scholder, but was enthusiastic about the idea.
"I'm intrigued by it," he said. "I think that when you can use somebody local like that that has an interesting concept that uses natural and organic materials. I think that's certainly something that we should explore and see if it's beneficial and if it's cost-effective.
"I'm excited about the opportunity. I think it's a cool initiative and I come at it with a positive and open-minded perspective."
Still, Hrbek said, the town council also has a fiduciary responsibility to the town and that must be considered as well.
Councilman Tom Sayre said he was fine with Scholder's desire to use a half-acre of land by the treatment center on which he wants to conduct a pilot project.
"I also do not have any issue with him getting the sludge as he has in the past," Sayre said. "It benefits the town, plus it benefits him, and I hate to see his worms starve."
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org