WASILLA — Matanuska Creamery and the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation are at odds over where and how the creamery can dispose of its waste byproducts.
The creamery has been without a septic service at its current location since 2008 and has hauled human waste to Anchorage for disposal. But milk waste is hauled to Point MacKenzie and sprayed on hay fields, or it dumped at a site near the intersection of Church and Schrock roads.
It’s the Church Road site that has become problematic.
“There appears to be some pits that were dug; however, when I found them doing that yesterday (Thursday) they were not using the pits they were just dumping it on the ground back at the end of one of the fields,” said Oran Woolley, environmental engineer with DEC in Wasilla.
He said the creamery is not allowed to do that.
Karen Olson, president of Matanuska Creamery, said in an email and a phone interview that she thought they were.
“The Church Road property has been in agricultural use since the 1960s. We were told by DEC in 2008 that state statutes did not address the manufacturing byproduct at all, but that dumping the wastewater on agricultural lands was fine,” Olson said.
Complaints about the practice started coming in this year, she said.
“A few weeks ago, DEC asked if we would consider hauling only to Point MacKenzie because the troopers were called,” Olson said. “I said we’d try to haul there some of the time, but that it was much more expensive to do so, and I reminded the caller we had been told that dumping the water on ag land was OK.”
The cost difference is significant for the creamery, she said. Hauling the plant’s milk waste to Point Mac costs $6,000, but the cost is only half that to use the Church Road site, Olson said.
She said that on Thursday, when Woolley came out to the site, her driver was told to stop dumping and she was told that whatever agreements she had with DEC were not in writing and that they were no longer valid.
“I have been told that dogs and children who trespass on the property don’t like the mud, and that when the wind is wrong there is an objectionable smell,” she said. “Not sure either of those should rise to the level of trooper and/or DEC involvement, especially since what we have been doing for the past several years has been known and approved. It adds calcium and pH buffering to the soil, and there is no smell after the water breaks down.”
Woolley said that the wastewater does, indeed, smell terrible. He said it’s not quite industrial waste and not quite sewage. It’s whey left over from cheese making added to milk flushed out of the tanks and the water used to clean the tanks. Everything in it is organic, though. He said there is no threat to any waterways, but that if it did somehow wind up in a stream it would kill fish.
He said the land in question actually belongs to the state Department of Natural Resources. Olson said she has a 55-year lease of the land that is good until 2023.
“The creamery has a lease on that state land from DNR and so I am currently working with the Department of Natural Resources to come up with a consequence,” Woolley said. “I’m sure there will be something.”
Olson said the creamery will stop dumping there and find some way to accommodate the extra $3,000 in dumping costs. Meanwhile, the creamery is trying to relocate to a place where it can hook into some kind of septic service.
“We are working very hard to move to a location where we do not have to haul, and this should be accomplished within a matter of a few months,” she said.
Olson said the creamery has plans to relocate to a site connected to the city of Wasilla’s wastewater system. She said Wasilla has agreed to accept the waste.
She said she’d like to talk to local farmers interested in using the nutrient-rich milk waste to enrich their land.
Contact reporter Andrew Wellner at email@example.com or 352-2270.