Homeowners near Merritt, B.C. buy land to keep human biosolids away

A group of homeowners near Merritt, B.C., are buying a contentious plot of land from a bio-solids company.

Nearby residents have been protesting for a year to keep the biosolids away from their homes

Protesters gathered at the B.C. Legislature May 25 to call on the government to stop importing sewage sludge shipped from the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan into their ancestral lands in the Nicola Valley. (CBC)

A group of homeowners near Merritt, B.C. is buying a contentious plot of land from Bio Central, a biosolids company, potentially ending a long dispute over the practice of spreading treated human waste on area land.

The 320-acre parcel of land known as Dry Lake is near a 44-lot rural subdivision and a community well.  

"We don't want to have our watershed compromised and this is probably the best way that that can be achieved," said the group's spokeswoman Georgia Clement. 

Biosolids are the end product recovered during the wastewater treatment process. They can also be used as a soil fertilizer. Bio Central had a contract with some B.C. municipalities to ship this material to the Merritt area, where it is composted, then applied to the land.

However, the homeowners' group and area First Nations don't want the biosolids applied to land in the region. Clement said the material could harm the drinking water.

"It's also loaded with …  all kinds of toxins," Clement said. "They don't leave the land."

Settlement reached

One year ago, the homeowners learned the company planned to put treated human waste on the property, which is uphill from their neighbourhood.

They protested, and over the past year, they have had rallies with local First Nations to block bio-solids from coming into the Nicola Valley. 

But Clement says the homeowners have reached a settlement with the company.

"Both parties dealt in good faith. They were fine to deal with. We had a good transaction, and so now we have an accepted offer on Dry Lake."

Clement said they will put a restrictive covenant on the land to ensure no bio-solids are ever applied. 

She wouldn't comment on the price they are paying for the land. The deal is expected to close early next year.

There is still another contentious property in the Nicola Valley — land on Sunshine Valley Road where the company composts biosolids.

In October, five First Nations in the region signed an agreement with the provincial government to study the potential effects that the sewage sludge has on human health, wildlife and the environment.

Clement said her group will continue to support local First Nations who oppose treated human waste on that site. 

Bio Central did not respond to a request for an interview Wednesday. The practice of using biosolids for farm fertilizer is regulated by the Ministry of Environment.

With files from Brady Strachan

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