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Farmland owner ordered to clean up sewage smell

Posted: November 26, 2013 - 1:00am

FAIRBANKS — A judge in Fairbanks has ordered the owner of 500 acres of farmland to eliminate the smell from lagoons filled with septic tank waste, saying the odor is not protected by Alaska’s Right-to-Farm Act.

Robert Riddle, owner of Fairbanks Pumping and Thawing, is scheduled for a Tuesday hearing to gauge progress made in cleaning up the odors from the property off Eielson Farm Road.

The order from Superior Court judge Bethany Harbison stems from a lawsuit brought by subdivision developer Eric Lanser, who began to develop adjacent property into farmsteads in 2007, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Monday.

Riddle and his attorney did not immediately return requests from The Associated Press for comment Monday.

Lanser said the reason he went forward with his lawsuit is because the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the state Department of Environmental Conservation did not adequately enforce permits on Riddle’s property.

According to Harbison’s order, Riddle began dumping septage waste on the property in 2005, with plans to use it as fertilizer for a farm. During a trial for the case over the summer, farmers testified that such practice is common and that human septage is a renewable and widely available source of fertilizer.

The court order states that Riddle began accepting additional septage from Bigfoot Pumping and Thawing in 2010. That year, Bigfoot dumped at least 2.5 million gallons of septage into the lagoons, according to court documents.

“Lanser asserts that the lagoons constitute a private nuisance because the odors produced by the lagoons are so pervasive and so foul that nearby landowners often are driven indoors to escape the odors,” the order states.

Riddle began to use some of the septage to grow sod, despite a DEC permit forbidding him from doing so.

Harbison shot down Riddle’s contention that his lagoons were protected from nuisance complaints by the Right-to-Farm Act. The judge said that because Riddle has not sold any products he doesn’t qualify as a commercial farm as required by the law.

“Right-to-Farm Act does not offer protection from a nuisance that may later support farming activity,” she said.

“Rather, the Right-to-Farm Act protects a farming activity that later becomes a nuisance because of subsequent expansion or adoption of new technology.”

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