Got sludge? Here's an idea

The city wants to solidify a regional partnership and push for a drying facility.

Published March 24, 2007

Every day, sludge happens.

In Oldsmar, it happens between 16,000 and 24,000 gallons a week.

But sludge - the byproduct of highly treated wastewater - also happens in Dunedin and Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and the rest of Pinellas County.

Now, Oldsmar is hoping all four entities will join its push to create a regional biosolids drying facility.

The Oldsmar City Council voted Tuesday to hire Jones Edmunds and Associates, an environmental engineering consultant, to study the feasibility of such a facility. The council is asking its four partners to chip in $5,000 each for the $25,000 study.

Finding an alternative way to dispose of biosolids is a concern for many cities as land becomes scarce and environmental standards rise. Oldsmar is among those cities that hire contractors to haul their waste to sod farms in Manatee, Citrus and Hardee counties.

But even after the solids are biologically broken down and treated with lime, the remaining product still contains bacteria and organisms. It can only be spread in licensed areas. And those areas are harder to find as sod farms are being sold to developers. Also, counties accepting sludge are demanding higher environmental standards, according to John Mulvihill, Oldsmar's public works director.

The new study comes on the heels of an April study by the same consultant that found Oldsmar could process its own biosolids by spending $3.9-million to add a heat-drying system to its reclaimed water facility. The system would produce a safe, dry, organic and reusable pellet-shaped product that can be used as fertilizer.

Tampa, Largo and Pinellas County have their own such biosolid drying systems. Pinellas County's system produces about 30 dry tons of biosolids a day, which is sold as fertilizer for between $40 to $80 a ton. The proceeds are shared between the county and the contractor that runs the system.

The county is interested in discussing a regional facility because of increasing demands, said Mike Engelmann, senior engineer for Pinellas County Utilities.

"It's a relatively costly idea," Engelmann said of building a regional facility, "but there's really nothing that is less costly in the long run."

Dunedin, like Oldsmar, now pays a contractor to haul its sludge. A regional facility is a good idea if issues of ownership and finances are agreeable, said Kenneth Stidham, Dunedin's director of wastewater.

"Small outfits like Dunedin and Oldsmar and those, we're not big enough to pay the 20-million bucks for a facility of our own," Stidham said.

The study approved Tuesday by the Oldsmar council will consider three possible locations to build the plant, Mulvihill said. Clearwater, Oldsmar and Pinellas County all have some available land adjacent to their wastewater facilities, he said.

Mulvihill hopes that construction would start by 2009.

"We'll see where this goes," he said. "I think we'll work out a partnership."

Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at 727 445-4181 or tel-khoury@sptimes.com.