Council ratifies Pullman emergency declaration, allowing solid waste to be hauled out of town

Sep. 13—This story has been updated from its original version.

PULLMAN — The Pullman City Council ratified an emergency declaration Tuesday evening as it prepares to haul its solid waste to another processing facility following complications with getting a permit approved by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Pullman applied for a new DOE permit to haul its solid waste, or biosolids, from the Pullman Wastewater Treatment Plant to a local farm for use as fertilizer.

Mayor Glenn Johnson stated in a Monday news release that Pullman filed the application June 20, but the Washington State Department of Ecology had not reviewed it.

Pullman gathered samples of the farmer's field and the biosolids and sent them to the state lab for testing Sept. 5.

Pullman Public Works Director Sean Wells said during Tuesday's City Council meeting that each time Pullman contacted DOE about its application, state officials said Pullman was next in line to be reviewed.

Since the permit process requires a 30-day public comment period, and with inclement weather approaching, Pullman is concerned that hauling biosolids to farms cannot be completed this year.

City Administrator Mike Urban said the Pullman Wastewater Treatment Plant has a capacity of 3,500 tons of waste and is holding a bit more than 3,000 tons.

Pullman is moving forward with an existing contingency plan to haul waste to a Lewiston processing facility four times a week, and an Airway Heights, Wash., facility as often as it can.

"The state of emergency is timely to avoid any health hazards by overaccumulation of maximum capacity in the storage lagoon," Urban said Tuesday. "We're not in that condition yet if we execute the contingency plan. What the state of emergency does allow is to not only activate that contingency plan but to bypass the existing procurement policy and begin hauling biosolids to the alternate sites"

In an email, the DOE stated that contingency plans are required on all biosolids permits and do not require emergency actions or approvals from the Department of Ecology.

"Contingency plans allow facilities to continue to manage biosolids in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment if issues arise with normal operations," wrote DOE spokesperson Stephanie May. "Options for managing include hauling to a different permitted biosolids management facility, such as biosolids compost facilities, or storing excess biosolids on-site."

Wells said the previous farmer who was receiving Pullman's biosolids informed the city at the end of 2022 he no longer wanted Pullman's waste material. Pullman then entered into a contract with a new farmer in March.

May stated the city is seeking a new permit, not a permit renewal. A new permit application "requires a more thorough review than an existing site already approved and used in the past."

The cost of hauling waste on these trips is estimated to be more than $500,000. Urban told the City Council that Pullman's reserves can absorb this one-time hit, but it will affect future city projects.

Both city and state officials confirmed that the DOE spoke to Pullman staff Tuesday and plans to do a site investigation next week.

Johnson said DOE believes there is a way to "work through this" but he did not want to make any guarantees about a possible solution.

Johnson said he told Washington state Sen. Mark Schoesler and the governor's office about the situation.

The emergency declaration was ratified unanimously.