Planning commissioners don’t favor Benson rezone for sewage sludge

CACHE COUNTY – In the face of withering public opposition Thursday, the members of the Cache County Planning Commission turned thumbs down on a rezone request for a Logan City composting site in Benson.

By a three-to-one vote, the planning commission recommended that the Cache County Council deny the rezone proposal that would allow Logan City to establish a composting facility to treat sewer sludge from the city’s new wastewater plant.

With commission chair Brandon Spackman absent due to illness, commissioners Brady Christensen, Phillip K. Olsen and Jason Watterson voted to deny the city request. Only commissioner Chris Sands cast a vote in favor of the proposal.

Logan officials are seeking permission to rezone a city-owned 47-acre parcel of land at 1400 North and 3200 West from agricultural use to public infrastructure. The purpose of that request is to establish a 10-acre site where biosolid waste products from the city’s water treatment plant can be mixed with green waste to create agricultural compost.

Dozens of irate Benson residents packed the County Council Chambers in the Historic Courthouse. The attendees all wore face coverings, but any concern about social distance was totally forgotten.

Retired judge Thomas Willmore led his Benson neighbors in a “not in my backyard” crusade Thursday, provoking an unfavorable recommendation from the Cache County Planning Commission on a rezone request from Logan City.

The local opposition was led by retired 1st District Court Judge Thomas Willmore, a Benson resident.

Thursday’s planning commission meeting was a continuation of a public hearing on the rezone request that began on Feb 4. City officials led off the discussion, trying to allay the Benson residents’ concerns raised a month prior.

Environmental director Issa Hamud spoke about the planned operation of the composting site and introduced a lengthy report explaining the function of biosolids in the process of treating wastewater. He was assisted by Gary Vance of JUB Engineers and Leland Myers, the former general manager of the Central Davis Sewer District in Layton.

Myers described the role of the manager of a waste composting site as “95 percent public relations,” that is “keeping the neighbors happy.” That can be achieved, he added, by selecting the right composting process, running a professional operation and adapting to any problems that arise. Meeting those standards engenders trust between the waste managers and their neighbors.

But Willmore said that Logan officials had failed in the trust department from the outset by not engaging honestly with Benson residents.

He summarized his neighbors concerns about the proposed waste treatment site as “the smells, the insects, the rodents” and the potential contamination of nearby streams, wetlands and groundwater.

“Don’t delay anymore,” Wilmore told the planning commissioners. “Make the decision now to send this project away.”

When Providence Mayor John Drew spoke in favor of the Logan request, he drew catcalls to put the composting site in his town.

Benson resident Jeff Ricks agreed with Willmore that there was no reason to trust the assurances of Logan officials that the site’s smell and other side effects would be mitigated.

“All I’ve heard tonight is ‘if this’ and ‘if that’,” he said. “There are too many if’s about this deal.”

More than a dozen Benson residents spoke heatedly against the rezone request before commissioners finally called a halt to their comments. Christensen added that the planning commission had received 56 comments via e-mail about the rezone request in the past month, with only two of them supporting the composting site.

After their vote recommending denial of the rezone request, the planning commissioners candidly discussed their concerns with county attorneys Chris Harrild and John Luthy.

While appreciating that composting might be the most cost-efficient way to deal with the biosolids from the Logan water plant, Christensen said that he wasn’t convinced that Benson was the best location for the composting site.

The city just didn’t give us enough information about possible alternatives to make a good judgment,” he added.

Saying that “public clamor” against the rezone request was relevant to the commission’s decision, Olsen admitted that he sympathized with the Benson residents who are being asked to jeopardize their property values by accepting Logan’s sewer sludge.

“After all,” he laughed, “Logan could always put its composting site by the golf course.”

Olsen said his decision to vote against the rezone was also partially influenced by the continuing issues with blowing litter and other problems at the city’s landfill in Clarkston.

The Logan rezoning request will now be forwarded to the Cache County Council for a public hearing and a final decision.

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