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Drinking Water Risk? New Player Surfaces In Pond Mud Saga

POSTED January 27, 2010 12:54 a.m.
A public meeting on Jan. 20 for a new, second permit filed to spread the remainder of Con Agra’s byproduct pond mud onto rural Oakdale properties brought out less than a dozen people, including the presenters, but a new player is now in the mix.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District (SSJID) owns the Woodward Reservoir on the outskirts of Oakdale, which is bordered on the east side by portions of land listed on the permit that shed water to the reservoir.

The permit application for where this dredged byproduct pond mud is to be spread was filed by JND Thomas Co., Inc. (President is Dennis Thomas of Riverdale in Fresno County), a contractor that does dredging, dewatering, excavating, aeration and circulation, and land application. However, research indicates that the properties listed on the permit are owned by VA Rodden Inc. of Oakdale with land in the Oakdale/Waterford area near Ellenwood Road listed on the permit and Lloyd T. Prothers of Modesto with property east of 28 Mile Road that borders east and northeast portions of the reservoir listed on the permit. The Prothers properties are the ones of concern to SSJID.

The public meeting was hosted by the Stanislaus County Department of Environmental Resources at Oakdale’s Gene Bianchi Community Center with remarks and presentation made by the department’s director, Sonya Harrigfeld and Senior Resource Management Specialist Vicki Jones.

Bill Hubkey, the plant manager for SSJID’s Nick C. DeGroot water treatment plant located on Dodds Road in Oakdale, which currently supplies the potable (drinking) water to the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy — and will supply water to Escalon in 2012 — was at the meeting to express the district’s concerns about runoff contaminating the water in the reservoir.

Harrigfeld said that soil samples and plant tissue samples would be taken over a period of time to monitor that the byproduct material was being applied at appropriate agronomic rates. She said that samples are taken prior to application and post application, so a baseline is created.

Hubkey asked Harrigfeld if her department had planned to do water quality samples, to which Harrigfeld replied no.

“You don’t have a baseline if something occurs?” Hubkey asked Harrigfeld.

After a long pause, Harrigfeld said that she felt the setbacks were enough that it wouldn’t be of impact to the reservoir.

In a brief interview after the meeting, Hubkey said that right now, with the heavy rains, the water is “flowing like crazy” off those properties into the reservoir.

According to the Department of Environmental Resources presentation, the pond mud consists of byproducts of tomatoes, beans, leaves, stems, and soil rinsed from the fruit. It is a mud slurry that is approximately 60 percent solids. The pond contains approximately 20,000 dry tons of byproduct mud. The mud spreading will occur within 24 hours of delivery and the landowner will used a manure spreader to distribute it. The byproducts must be incorporated into the soil with 48-72 hours, after a period of initial drying.

There are five parcels proposed for land application located in the unincorporated areas of the County. The Land Application Sites are as follows: Parcel 1(a): Ellenwood Road, west side of road, Waterford (also known as 3000 Crow Road, Oakdale) – APN 015-003-004; Parcel 1(b): Ellenwood Road, east side of road, Oakdale (also known as 4000 Ellenwood, Oakdale) – APN 015-081-048; [Parcel 2: Voluntarily removed from the project]; Parcel 3(a): 28 Mile Road, east side of road, Valley Home – APN 002-009-005; Parcel 3(b): Sonora Road, south side of road, Oakdale – APN 002-021-011; Parcel 3(c): Frankenheimer Road, west side of road, Oakdale – APN 002-021-048.

All documents are available for review at 3800 Cornucopia Way, Suite C, Modesto and online at www.stancounty.com/er/ceqa.shtm.

The deadline for final comments on the matter is Thursday, Feb. 11, then a public hearing with the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors is scheduled tentatively for Tuesday, April 6.

Material submitted to Stanislaus County for consideration such as photos, petitions, etc. will be retained by the county. If a challenge to this application is made in court, persons may be limited to raising only those issues they or someone else raised at the public meeting, or in written correspondence delivered to the Department of Environmental Resources.

For more information about the project, contact Vicki Jones, Sr. Resource Management Specialist at the Stanislaus County Dept. of Environmental Resources at (209) 525-6710.

For more information go to the county’s Environmental Resources website at www.co.stanislaus.ca.us/er/.

The original permit filed by Con Agra to get rid of the byproduct pond mud, which must be spread at agronomic rates, had it going to 13 parcels owned by Oakdale farmer John Brichetto. However, a vocal group of community members and school entities who had properties near a few of Brichetto’s properties in more densely populated areas came out en masse to express their concerns about having the byproduct spread so close to town. Eventually, Con Agra amended its permit to eliminate three of Brichetto’s land parcels that were in the original application before it went in front of the county Board of Supervisors in early December 2009.

Con Agra needed to find a home for the remaining byproduct mud, which in turn brought about this second application. During the December presentation to the county supervisors, it was stated that the Stanislaus County Department of Environmental Resources had a concurrent permit that had been filed by Con Agra to move the remainder of the aerated pond byproduct sediment materials.

For reference on prior articles about the Con Agra byproduct pond mud spreading issue, go to The Oakdale Leader website at www.oakdaleleader.com and type in the key words “pond mud” into the Search Archives area to find related stories in the July 15, July 29, Nov. 25, and Dec. 2, 2009 issues.

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