Septage

A canola field on Amsterdam Road proposed for septage disposal is pictured on Tuesday.

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AMSTERDAM — Residents here are raising concerns about a proposal to place septage — the material removed from septic tanks and portable toilets — on two properties near several homes and Amsterdam School.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is accepting public comment until Thursday on its draft environmental assessment of an application from TLC Septic and Excavation to dispose of septage on 70 acres near the corner of Camp Creek and Amsterdam roads and on 100 acres at 9363 Camp Creek Road.

The DEQ’s assessment concluded the placement of septage on the two properties would have minor impacts.

TLC President Lori Dooley said DEQ mistakenly included the 70 acres on the corner of Camp Creek and Amsterdam roads in its draft environmental assessment. She said she asked DEQ in 2018 and again in September to withdraw TLC’s application for that property because it was too close to homes and therefore not suitable for applying septage.

“It was not TLC’s intention to have that (70-acre property) on our application,” Dooley said. “When we went and met on-site, we decided to take it off our application and somehow it was left on.”

TLC is still hoping for DEQ permission to place septage on the 100-acre property because there are no homes nearby, Dooley said.

Amsterdam residents have been asking the DEQ to deny TLC’s application, particularly for the 70-acre property.

Brenda Darby, who lives near the 70-acre property, said she recognizes that land application of septage occurs across the United States but said Amsterdam was not a suitable place for it.

“It sounds like it could be workable in other places, but this is a neighborhood with a school and 68 wells nearby,” she said, referring to the drinking water she and her neighbors rely on.

Nancy Randall, who also lives in Amsterdam, has been informing her neighbors about the DEQ’s environmental assessment.

She said even though TLC has been seeking DEQ approval since May 2017, she and her neighbors only learned about it when the public comment period opened in late November.

Randall said she’s worried the septage could make people sick, especially given that COVID-19 is airborne and has been found in human feces.

She also said it could seep into Godfrey Creek, Lowline Canal and Camp Creek, all of which lie less than a half mile from where TLC would apply septage.

“We’re trying to get the message out: Please save historic Amsterdam,” Randall said.

TLC has eight other locations in Gallatin County where it applies septage, according to DEQ.

DEQ is continually reviewing applications for the land application of septage, said Rick Thompson, the agency’s solid waste management section supervisor. In 2019, the state had 90 land application sites in 30 counties.

“Land application is common across Montana and across the United States primarily because the septage is very nitrogen rich and it has moisture associated with it, so … septage can in most cases replace chemical fertilizer and, for example, in Montana, which is a semi-arid state, it does provide some moisture to the soil as well,” Thompson said.

To obtain permission for the land application of septage, businesses must get approval from local agencies, such as the county health and planning departments, before DEQ conducts its own review, which includes ensuring the site is far enough from homes, surface water and groundwater, Thompson said.

Once the public comment period for DEQ’s draft environmental assessment of TLC’s application closes, the agency will review the feedback, finalize the assessment and decide whether to allow TLC to apply septage to the two properties.

If DEQ denies TLC’s request, the company can appeal to the state board of environmental review.

If the proposal is approved, members of the public have several ways to object, including by filing a lawsuit or asking their local health department to determine whether the company is following local regulations.

Darby, an Amsterdam resident, said she feels the approval is a done deal given DEQ’s findings but said the tension over TLC’s application is just one example of how land use conflicts are increasing as Gallatin County grows.

“Because we don’t have zoning, these types of issues keep popping up and there’s nothing we can do about it,” she said.

A decade ago, Amsterdam and Churchill adopted a joint neighborhood plan, which is often a precursor to developing zoning regulations, but Darby said subsequent work on zoning rules fizzled out due to opposition from some ranchers.

“I think we need to talk about zoning again because the fear is always there that something else could be done,” she said.

In recent months, Gallatin County Commissioner Joe Skinner has urged the county to work with Amsterdam and Churchill residents on zoning because he has heard from a few interested individuals.

“I think if the county initiated some help to look into it again, I think it would be well received,” Skinner said at a meeting with the planning department in late November.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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