Carr residents rejoice as Weld County Health Board rejects sewage proposal
March 28, 2017
Unless Sullivan Septic officials choose to appeal the Weld County Board of Health decision rejecting its application to spread septage on its property near Carr, the case is most likely over. Carr residents have now won twice against the Sullivans, as they previously succeeded in getting the Board of Weld County Commissioners to reject the storage of septage on the property.
After six hours of discussion, featuring pleas from residents of a tiny northern Colorado town to spare their drinking water, the Weld County Board of Health on Tuesday refused to approve an application for a landowner to spread sewage on his property.
More than 50 residents of Carr made the 20-mile journey south to attended the Greeley meeting, which began at 9 a.m. and ended about 3 p.m. Nearly all of them spoke, and some brought PowerPoint presentations. Only Kevin and Cynthia Sullivan spoke in favor of the proposal, which called for injecting waste from septic tanks collected by their business, Sullivan Septic, into 100-plus acres of property they own near Carr.
The plan served two purposes: It allowed the company to dispose of septage, which they were disposing of through a contract with McDonald Farms. It also would have served as fertilizer for the land, which the Sullivans planned to use to grow grass hay.
Residents' myriad concerns touched on three major themes:
» The soil isn't suited for the application of septage, as it's too porous.
» The septage could seep into an underground aquifer and contaminate drinking water in the area.
» Crops like grass hay can't be grown in Carr because of poor soil and minimal rainfall.
The Sullivans, through soil testing and their own experience, disputed those claims. But Board of Health members determined there wasn't enough evidence public health would be protected if the application was granted.
Although Department of Health staff recommended approval, a motion by the board to deny the application won on a 6-2 vote.
Board Chairman Jason Maxey voted against the denial, but he said he was happy with the robust discussion and public engagement on the topic, which he said is crucial in cases like this.
"I think it's America in action," said Phil Lukens, who owns land adjacent to the Sullivan property. "That's the beauty of Weld County, is that it's a democracy, and everybody gets to bring forward their voice."
Phil's wife, Bree Lukens, said 186 of Carr's roughly 400 residents signed a petition opposing the application, and more than 50 of those residents celebrated with smiles and quiet chatter after the meeting.
The Sullivans can appeal the decision to the Board of Weld County Commissioners. It's unclear whether they will, as they refused to comment after the meeting.
They might not have better luck with the commissioners, as that board about a year and a half ago rejected the Sullivans' plan to store septage in three 20,000-gallon tanks on their property following similar mobilization of Carr residents.
Those residents then, as now, compiled reports, hired a geologist and made a pitch to protect their water. Although the Sullivans turned in soil tests, residents disagreed with the results, saying the soil couldn't adequately filter the septage.
A dearth of septage injection operations in north Weld County — there are none — seemed to illustrate the point, as most of the operations are in more fertile southern Weld, where more crops are grown.
The rhetorical question came Tuesday.
"Why take the chance?"
For some Board of Health members, it was a fair question. So were questions about what would happen if the water did become contaminated. What recourse would residents have?
"That makes me nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs," board member Jim Rohn said.
Laughter followed, adding a moment of levity to an otherwise tense six hours. For Carr residents, — even those who maintained faith — the tension was natural.
They billed the application as more than just a permit to fertilize some land, but a potential roadblock to life as they now know it.
"This can make Carr a ghost town," resident Beverly Burris said. "If our water is contaminated, we can't live there. Are you going to allow this town to be destroyed?"
—Tyler Silvy covers city and county government for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.