lawsuit filed over American Fork sewer plant's 'humanure' piles

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 3:21 PM


AMERICAN FORK— Several Utah County cities and businesses are raising a stink over compost piles made from human waste at a sewage treatment plant, saying it’s no way to treat the neighbors.

They filed a $425 million lawsuit against the Timpanogos Special Service District in American Fork seeking relief.

"As the foul odor permeates the surrounding areas, it regularly causes physical illness among residents, workers and visitors," says the complaint in 4th District Court. It was filed earlier this week by American Fork, neighboring Pleasant Grove, the American Fork Chamber of Commerce and businesses including a BMW dealership and an RV park.

Citizens have lodged complaints for years, and the sewer district has responded by trying to keep odors down. By 2010, officials said they were wrapping 160-foot-long sludge piles in Gore-Tex tarps that reportedly eliminated as much as 97 percent of the odor while hastening composting.

The lawsuit, however, says workers who uncover the piles to mix chopped vegetation with human waste are releasing "substantial, obnoxious and foul odors through several miles of surrounding commercial and residential areas."

Utah County commissioners were named in the lawsuit because they oversee the Timpanogos Special Service District.

"I’m sad and disappointed in it, and I think there are other ways to work on it," Commissioner Larry Ellertson told the Daily Herald of Provo. "I think there has been much progress made and continued to be made."

The service district collects sewer waste from about 40,000 households across a wide area of northern Utah County, said Walter Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality.

"They’ve got a massive concrete pad for their composting operation and water stops to prevent any groundwater contamination," said Baker, listing his agency’s only concerns with the operation. "As far as the management of it — the odors of it — that’s not under our purview."

The odors are driving down rents in nearby office buildings, the lawsuit says.

"For example, commercial building owners have greater difficulty leasing their spaces, lease rates are lower than they otherwise would be, and tenants have either left or have threatened to leave if the odor continues to plague the area," it said.

The sewer plant reportedly keeps hundreds of tons of sludge onsite for compost, saving money on disposal. In 2010, officials told the Deseret News they earned $375,000 from compost sales, offsetting costs for hauling away remaining sludge.

District Manager Jon Adams didn’t return a phone message Wednesday from The Associated Press.

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