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Mud flies over sludge

Murphys Sanitary District may have as much as double the sewage sludge it anticipated removing and up to $60,000 in additional costs to be incurred as a result in coming weeks.

The district held an emergency board meeting Thursday morning where they agreed to halt work on excavating and hauling off several thousand tons of contaminated soil from about a decade worth of illegal stockpiling on district property. The board will continue its deliberations in a special meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The state’s Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has given the district until Oct. 15 to have all the material removed.


Tempers flared Thursday when General Manager Julio Guerra told the board there may be as many as 4,000 additional tons to haul out, on top of 3,300 tons that had been removed through Thursday morning. The board budgeted $200,000 to evaluate and remove the stockpiles, which have led to unacceptable nitrate levels in nearby groundwater samples, based on a geologist’s estimate of just 3,000 tons total.

In typical fashion, the meeting became chaotic with no clear boundaries between public comment and board discussion.

“You’re not worried about it. You don’t live here. You don’t have to pay,” said John Davies, the landlord for the district office and husband of board President Patricia Davies, to Guerra before offering, “Do you want to go outside?”

“Are you threatening me? You asked if I wanted to go outside. In normal polite society, that would be considered a threat,” Guerra replied before board member Tim O’Flinn interrupted the verbal brouhaha.

John Kramer of consultant Condor Earth Technologies, based in Sonora, said contamination from the sludge appears to have percolated down deeper than first estimated and been blended with previously untainted soil.

“Some of the material that isn’t sludge is going to be classified as sludge simply because it’s been in contact with sludge,” Kramer said.

Following the contentious session, Guerra said the latest estimate puts the remaining sludge to be removed at about 2,000 tons.

The district has already spent $25,000 for Condor to evaluate the site and $150,000 on contractor Synagro, which has offices in Kern County, for removal of the first 3,300 tons.

“I think it’s disgusting,” said board member Ryan Van Cleave. “We can’t spend that kind of money on research and find out it’s double what it’s supposed to be.”

The district paid Synagro $49.80 per ton for the first 3,000 tons. It has a bid of $30 a ton from Synagro to keep hauling the rest of the sludge out to an approved site near Herald in Sacramento County. Synagro offered to haul at $17 a ton plus $1,800 a day for loading if the material can be disposed of at the county landfill near Milton. Bids from Angels Camp companies Sutton Enterprises and Rolleri Construction were $28.50 a ton to go to the landfill.

The county Board of Supervisors approved taking the sludge for free in a Tuesday meeting but it has higher standards for the dryness of the material that the Herald site does not.

Guerra said he had been told by county staff on Sept. 5 that there was no chance the sludge would be taken for free at the landfill so he executed the Synagro contract.

John Davies and Murphys resident Mike Peccia refused to believe it.

“It looks like somebody failed to do their job,” Peccia said, and later called for district staff to have their wages cut in half “to pay for the mistake.”

Synagro representative John Pugliaresi spoke to the board via speaker phone toward the end of the meeting and agreed he could leave excavation equipment in place through Tuesday while awaiting a decision from the board.

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