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AWA uses biosolids in reforestation efforts

Investment to save $300,000 in costs

The Altoona Water Authority will spend up to $65,000 to spread 3,800 tons of Class B biosolids produced by its sewer plants on reclaimed strip mine ground in the watershed above the Horseshoe Curve.

The move is part of a reforestation effort by the Department of Environmental Protection.

The investment will save the $300,000 cost of landfilling the biosolids, according to officials at a recent authority meeting.

Trucking out the material, while leaving enough to spread this fall on the few remaining farms that still accept Class B biosolids, will set the authority up for spring, when its new digester-dryer system at the Westerly Sewer Treatment Plant will be able to turn the Class B material produced over winter into benign Class A material that won’t be an expensive disposal problem.

The authority will pay $45,000 to a contractor to disk 80 acres of ground to incorporate the biosolids as fertilizer for the reforestation project, which is being funded through the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation, part of DEP, according to General Manager Mark Perry.

At $12.50 a ton to spread, it’s an “excellent price,” Perry said.

The authority doesn’t want to use its own machinery to break through the soil, because the ground is rocky and the job would tear up its equipment, Perry said.

The authority will also hire a contractor to haul the material to the site at a cost of about $20,000, according to Perry.

The bureau “saw a benefit if we were willing,” Perry said of the project.

The authority for years has spread its Class B biosolids on farm ground, but restrictions have increased and farmers have dropped out of the program.

The authority lost one participant in Riggles Gap recently when neighboring property owners “went crazy,” said Todd Musser, director of sewer treatment operations.

“That lost us 1,500 tons,” Musser said. “People don’t want it in their backyards.”

Landfilling biosolids at increasingly high cost “is the last thing we want to do,” Musser said.

The authority can store about 5,000 tons, Musser said.

When the digester equipment is operational, it will create methane gas that will fuel the dryer that will turn the Class B biosolids into Class A material.

The state is reforesting the watershed site because the trunks of trees planted 30 years ago in a reclamation project are “thumb-sized” for lack of soil nutrients, Musser said.

Sixty-one thousand new trees will be planted, both hardwood and softwood, Musser said.

The reforestation will also include the area known as Big Murph, Perry said.

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