Spraying proposal drawing criticism

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

Plans to spray treated sewage on forest land near Carbonado have riled local environmentalists who fear the waste could find its way into small streams that feed larger, salmon-spawning rivers.

The major players in the brewing controversy are Northwest Cascade, a company that pumps septic tanks and operates “porta-potties” in the region; the White River School District, which owns thousands of acres just south and east of Carbonado; and a group consisting of Friends of the Carbon Canyon plus other concerned citizens.

The story, in a nutshell, is this: Northwest Cascade has contracted with the school district to spray “septage,” or lime-treated waste, on the forest floor. The company would haul raw waste to the site, where it would be treated and sprayed onto the ground and trees. In return, the school district will be paid; the estimate is between $50,000 and $60,000 annually.

The process has been approved by Pierce County officials.

But that hasn't quieted the storm brewing among those who have ties to the forest.

Mardel Chowen fears the science behind the operation is flawed. The area gets much more rain than is stated, she said, and that could lead to runoff heading into the small streams that cut through the hills. She also fears the raw waste itself, as no one can predict what people put into their home drains or drop into portable toilets.

Opponents of the plan have appealed to Pierce County Planning and Land Services, hoping to see a public comment period extended into November. Additionally, they have asked for a public hearing on the matter. A decision on the request was anticipated Friday, but put off until this week.

Assistant Superintendent Roger Marlow said the school district entered into the agreement with Northwest Cascade only after being satisfied that the process was safe.

“It's being approved at the county, state and national level,” Marlow said of the application of treated waste. “It's safe...or the county Health Department and the state Department of Ecology wouldn't have said OK.”

Marlow pointed out the plans calls for spraying on 200 acres per year and the total project is limited to 1,300 acres of the district's 3,000-acre tree farm.

Chowen said opponents plan on attending the next meeting of the White River School Board to make their feelings known.

Previously, Marlow and Northwest Cascade made presentations to both the school board and the Carbonado Town Council, neither of which objected to the plan.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at

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