On Tuesday August 23, the Lake County Commission voted 5-0 to deny a zoning decision to allow a composting factory for sewage sludge to be constructed near Lake Apopka. The proposed facility on the land of longtime Apopka vegetable grower Long and Scott Farms would have composted sewage sludge into Class “AA” material to use as fertilizer. Ocklawaha Audubon and “Friends of Lake Apopka” joined dozens of nearby residents to urge the County Commission to reject approval of the facility.
Lake Apopka, perhaps Florida’s most polluted body of water due to long term nutrient pollution, is just now in early stages of restoration. Nearly 15,000 acres of farms on the north shore of Lake Apopka were acquired by the St. Johns River Water Management District to halt agricultural runoff into the lake and a “flow through marsh” now operates to gradually clean the lake water itself. Processing sewage sludge and septic tank waste into fertilizer, and then using it on the remaining farms near Lake Apopka was seen as a new problem for the lake’s recovery.
Local residents also were concerned about the potential for foul odors from the windrows of sludge that would be piled up to dry. The Ocklawaha Valley Audubon Society suggested that an Audubon-recommended process involving gasification and energy gas production from sludge and septic tank waste be used instead. Maxwest Energy, a company located in Sanford, Florida, has been successful in converting the City of Sanford’s sewage treatment plant to add a process that completely eliminates the need for landspreading of sewage sludge, instead turning the energy in sludge into a useful product that helps the sewage treatment plant’s operations.
Audubon of Florida believes that sewage sludge is a statewide problem, particularly impacting nutrient-challenged bodies of water like Lake Okeechobee and Lake Apopka, and believes landspreading should be replaced by processes that turn sludge into energy.
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