CEDAR RAPIDS — An inventive approach to converting sewage into compost was halted Monday night by passionate neighbors who said they didn’t want the project — and its potential associated odors and detriments to water quality and property values — in their backyards.
More than 100 Linn County residents packed the formal meeting room and a nearby backup room for the Linn County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. Dozens more spilled into the hallway.
Of the more than two dozen people who spoke at the meeting, all flung barbs at a sewage treatment plant and compost facility proposed for unincorporated land near Hiawatha, Robins and Toddville.
Ultimately, the commission voted unanimously to deny the request by Rick Miene, of Miene Septic in Robins, for a conditional use permit, for about 40 acres on the 3400 block of Midway Road just east of Interstate 380. The operation would have repurposed septic waste from his business into compost.
“You’re going to have to find a different location for this,” said commission member RJ Carson. “I’m not telling you that you can’t do it, or you shouldn’t do it, but that particular spot probably isn’t the place to do it.”
In a public comment session that turned heated at points, opponents expressed concern for traffic, water quality and a potential foul odor.
“I think when you look at this room, we may not know all the people here, but this is our community right here and we don’t want this in our community,” said Clayton Foreman, who lives near the proposed project on County Home Road.
According to county staff reports, pump trucks would deliver septic waste to the property, where paper products would be screened from the waste and disposed in an indoor receptacle. The remaining septic solids would be dewatered and mixed with organic material in a bioreactor to create compost, which would be stored indoors. The effluent removed from the waste would end up in an on-site absorption field.
The site already is zoned agricultural, which allows for “sewage treatment plant” use, per county code.
“We felt that it was one of those things that we could reach out and do something a little bit outside the box,” Miene said.
However, organizers with a group of residents called Not in Our Backyard said they have submitted to the county more than 700 signatures in opposition.
County staff earlier this year recommended approval of the proposal, which staff said meets goals set in the county’s comprehensive plan.
Stephanie Lientz, Linn County planner, said the county had checks in place so that the project would have had to meet staff-identified requirements before operations could begin.
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