perverse_citiesby James A. Bacon

If planning and regulation were the answer to sprawl, then the Toronto metropolitan region ought to be a smart growth paradise. Toronto has a sophisticated, multi-tiered planning process, starting with an regional plan, plans for 30 upper-tier municipalities, and plans for 241 lower-tier municipalities (towns and townships, mostly). Yet outside the city of Toronto itself, which is undergoing a condo boom, there isn’t much to show for it.

The various municipal plans, which are comparable to Virginia’s comprehensive plans, define urban boundaries, control densities and show where growth should take place. The goal is for 40% of all new residential units to be built in already-urbanized areas. “That’s not happening,” says Pamela Blais, a city planner and principle of Toronto-based Metropole Consultants. “All the plans said all the right things. … [But] the regulatory approach isn’t sufficient to bring about the change.”

The failure of regulation to halt sprawling, auto-centric development was the basis for Blais’ 2010 book, “Perverse Cities: Hidden Subsidies, Wonky Policy and Urban Sprawl.” She had researched and written the volume to figure out how the planners’ plans had gone awry. If smart growth made so much sense, and if planners had the power to bring it about, why weren’t developers and home builders doing what they were supposed to do? Something else had to be going on, she reasoned, something that was not commonly recognized.

Pamela Blais

As she delved into the subject, Blais found that real estate development is guided by massive hidden subsidies that shift costs from inefficient, land-intensive development to efficient, compact development. These invisible subsidies work at cross purposes to the regulations. As it turns out, developers follow the dollar.

Blais describes herself as a pragmatist. “It’s not an ideological argument I’m making,” she told Bacon’s Rebellion. “I’m interested in getting better cities. I’m happy to talk to everybody on the whole spectrum.” But her approach to urban development is one that fiscal and free-market conservatives can appreciate. The system for pricing public goods such as roads, water, sewer, electricity and public services bears little relationship to the cost of providing those services, she argues, with the result that a tangled skein of hidden subsidies incentivizes low-density development.

“Everybody thinks [sprawl] is the the invisible hand of the market. It’s a highly distorted market,” she says. “I’ve been arguing, let’s remove the distortions and take it from there. Remove the distortions and you’ll get a different development pattern. That should be the starting point.”

That is very much the argument that I have made in Bacon’s Rebellion, based largely on the work of EM Risse in his work, “The Shape of the Future” and essays published on this blog several years ago. Risse argued that charges do not reflect their “location-variable costs,” a succinct phrase that captures the spirit of Blais’ argument. In my reporting, I have focused mainly on one set of costs — transportation — but Blais carries the analysis to charges for utilities, municipal services, housing, parking and development charges as well. In “Perverse Cities,” she exhumed an impressive body of research to document her thesis across the board.

When you subsidize sprawl, you get more of it. When you penalize smart growth, you get less of it. To achieve smart growth objectives, Blais argues, what the United States and Canada need is not more regulation, which can create distortions of their own, but prices that reflect the underlying costs of development. 

Blais doesn’t oppose all subsidies. But she thinks they should be transparent and a subject of public discussion. “Right now, we’re not even having those discussions. People aren’t aware those cross subsidies are happening.” Here is a sampling from her book of how hidden biases are built into the system:

Water-sewer. Water-sewer charges typically are applied uniformly across a service area, regardless of how much it costs to provide the service. Sometimes charges vary by the volume of water; sometimes they do not. But charges rarely vary by the capital cost of extending water-sewer pipe longer distances to serve scattered, low-density housing, nor the operating cost of pumping water those greater distances. As a consequence, homeowners living in compact urban areas where the service is inexpensively supplied wind up subsidizing homeowners living in low-density areas where it is more expensive. Those subsidies could be avoided by breaking water charges into two components: a charge based on the volume of water consumed and a location-based charge that reflects the cost of building and maintaining the pipes.

Electricity. Electricity charges are similar to water-sewer, varying by the volume of electricity consumed. But it is more expensive on a per-house basis to extend transmission and distribution lines, with attendant transformers and substations, to low-density settings. Again, those subsidies could be avoided by breaking the electric charge into two components: one based on the volume of electricity consumed and a location-based charge reflecting the cost of building and maintaining the grid.

Natural gas, land-line telephone service and Cable TV follow similar patterns. Other location-variable costs include postal service, garbage collection, recycling, snow clearance and broadband Internet.

Mortgage policy. Banks evaluate mortgage loans based on the debt incurred by the buyer as a percentage of household income. Loan standards do include car loans as debt but do not take into account automobile operating costs, which can amount to $4,500 per year over and above debt payments. Households living in neighborhoods with transportation alternatives like mass transit often enjoy lower transportation costs than other households and tend to have more income that could be dedicated to higher mortgage payments. Thus, the system is biased against those who live in compact urban communities served by mass transit in favor of those who don’t.

Parking. Most municipalities mandate a minimum numbers of parking spaces per unit of housing or per square feet of retail or office space. Hundreds of millions of parking spaces across the U.S. have a significant cost, including up-front capital expenses for construction and the ongoing cost of maintenance, lighting, landscaping, snow clearance, security and insurance. Except in central cities, the people using the parking spaces do not pay for them directly. The cost of parking is shared among all consumers and citizens who pay indirectly through higher overhead built into the charges for building rents and leases. Thus, drivers are subsidized by non-drivers (or light drivers).

Property tax. Property taxes are based on the assessed value of a house or commercial building, bearing no relation to the location-variable cost of maintaining infrastructure and municipal services. Some municipal services have location-variable costs, such as the maintenance of local roads; schools (if busing is required); and fire, police and rescue (whose response times vary by distance). To the extent that the tax charges for those service are mis-priced, compact development subsidizes sprawl development.

As Blais concludes in her book:

All of what we might call the “true” causes of sprawl fall squarely into the real of public policy: mis-pricing with respect to public-sector financial instruments or of publicly regulated prices, public policy mis-inventives, and mis-regulation of land use. … It may be troubling to think that the problem of sprawl — one that governments have been struggling to solve for decades — has, in fact, been largely created by those same governments, however inadvertently.

It’s been four years since “Perverse Cities” was published. “The reception has been very positive,” Blais says. “I haven’t had anyone say they disagree with the analysis.” But she concedes that in terms of actual practice, not much has changed. It takes a long time to reshape the way people look at the world, and even longer to alter the way they behave. But word is spreading. The environmental community has picked up her work, she says, and so has one Canadian free-market think tank. “It’s starting to gain some traction.”

So far, American conservatives have largely ignored Blais’ book. You don’t hear her ideas discussed at American Dream Coalition conferences or read about them in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. Conservatives are missing a tremendous opportunity to re-frame the debate over growth and development in line with the principles of fiscal responsibility and free markets. It’s never too late to change.

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22 responses to “Sprawl’s Hidden Subsidies”

  1. Fantastic! I don’t know if this is all of her arguments that you’ve summarized, but I can think of a few more.

    One of the biggest ones that I don’t think is talked about (because it’s not really a subsidy but a public cost that has no fee attached to it) is the “deconstruction” or “cleanup” cost of development. Redeveloping an urban infill site is almost always more expensive than developing a greenfield site because it requires significant demolition, site work, and often environmental remediation. The burden for all of these falls on the new developer rather than the old one. Given the alternative between an abandoned industrial site and a green field with roughly the same location, size, and other characteristics, the developer will always choose the field because he can avoid the costs of demolishing and cleaning up old places and the uncertainty of incurring large environmental remediation costs. But from everyone else’s perspective, it would be better for him to redevelop the old site and leave the field as it is. And often it is the city or the EPA that ends up footing the bill to remediate old sites and demolish abandoned buildings.

    I compare it to an irresponsible roommate in a house. Each time he goes to take a plate, he can take a clean one and then leave it in the sink, or he can wash one that’s currently dirty. He’ll continue taking the clean ones and filling up the sink because it’s the easiest option – until he finally runs out of clean plates (the value of the redeveloped land is so high) that he has to put in the work to wash a dirty one.

    I don’t know how this problem could be solved – perhaps with a “greenfield conversion fee” that a developer has to pay to the city in order to develop a previously undeveloped site – whereas there is no fee for redeveloping an existing urban site. To take this further, one could consider this to be a cost associated with losing the public benefit of having undeveloped lands. In that sense, it could be a different approach to “sprawl” and a more market-friendly (though certainly not government-free) alternative to the “urban growth boundary.” Rather than actually drawing an arbitrary line and saying one can develop in here and not out there, the state could simply charge an extra fee for developing previously untouched land instead of making better use of existing urban land.

  2. One last thought – low-density suburbs and high-density cities have very different infrastructure patterns and street grids. Suburban streets are patterned to inhibit access and are not space-efficient – with dead ends, windy roads, and large arterials. Higher-density urban areas need street networks that are patterned to encourage access and are very space-efficient – like grids that allow more options than simply being funneled onto an arterial.

    These street networks, once laid down, are incredibly hard to change. They require immense amounts of money and political will to reconfigure. Thus, rather than areas starting out as low-density suburbs and gradually growing into high density cities as the periphery expands and demand in the center grows, they remain hobbled by suburban infrastructure.

    This is part of why Northern Virginia has such horrible traffic problems and poor accessibility despite having a lower density than many more functional central cities. It was built out almost entirely as a suburb with only a few small urban areas, then gradually increased in density as demand rose. Now there are enough people in much of the region to warrant the configurations of a real city, but it’s hard to go back and do that after the fact.

  3. chris bonney Avatar
    chris bonney

    Talk to Ed McMahon (really) at the Urban Land Institute. He’ll show you numbers that document that it takes roughly four years for a mixed use development neighborhood to repay the cost of infrastructure compared to more than forty for a less-dense suburban neighborhood. I know you couldn’t cover the whole book in a single blog post. But I didn’t see any reference here to construction and maintenance of roads, telecommunications, protective services, schools, recreational areas, etc. If your goal is the lowest cost of delivery for public services, you quickly become a fan of density. I’m not saying everyone has to live that way. But the numbers speak compellingly for themselves.

    1. People should be free to live wherever they want… as long as they pay their location-variable costs.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Does that include the costs associated with living in a location where there are too many people relative to the number of jobs? Are the social costs of chronic un and under employment caused by people’s insistence on living in areas of fading economic strength a location variable costs? Should the people who are willing to endure the inconvenience of relocating in order to find suitable employment be asked to subsidize the lifestyle preferences of those will find the acceptance of subsidies preferable to the inconvenience of relocation?

        You have a very myopic view of subsidies.

  4. larryg Avatar

    re: water/sewer.

    it’s more complicated than suggested. Water/sewer usually already has two components – the capital cost ( charged as a hook-up fee) and the operational monthly costs which don’t have that much effect, I don’t think.

    but water/sewer in the suburbs has three significant drivers of expansion.

    the first is “leap-frog” where you have different parcels of land that different developers own that are at the “edge” of the system and no expansions planned but the developers agree to pay for extending the main line and the price is what it costs to lay the lines. Not sure what kind of fee or what you’d call it to make it cost more than the actual costs to extend it.

    2. fire service. hydrants get built to extend fire protection – which actually lowers insurance so it’s considered cost-effective.

    3. schools – yes schools. when the suburbs grow – they need new schools and the schools are not put where the existing houses are but to the borders where more growth is anticipated. Every one of the last 5 schools we’ve built had to have water/sewer extended to them and all the land in between became prime development property.

    re: cul-de-saced subdivision roads with “neighborhood watch” signs at the entrance. Even though they function essentially a private HOA-type roads, they are paid for with public funds – but they do not provide connectivity with other roads – and on a busy arterial – often, many of those “private” subdivisions requires a traffic signal.. which degrades the carrying capacity (LOS, VC ration).

    re: electricity – yep – but rolling back rural electrification is not an option and now we’re doing internet the same way. Besides urban areas are subsidized by having the power plant “sprawled” so they do not get the pollution from it.

    and urbanized areas are also subsidized for sewer and storm water as impervious surfaces are far more damaging to creeks and rivers and bays than grassy subdivision that soak up far more of runoff that asphalt.

    but we don’t even use market principals right now for water/sewer and electricity as we do not charge for peak-hour use –

    the rural folks will claim that rural lands subsidize city lands not only clean water and air but food.

    when you see a coal ash horror story on TV – we blame the power company but in reality where does that ash come from? it comes from burning coal to power cities.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    While I am hardly a conservative, I do find some of the arguments Ms. Blais very interesting. I agree that much of sprawl is subsidized indirectly by public works projects and financing guidelines that direct development here or there. Rethinking subsidies seems a nice, back door way to achieve smart growth without direct regulation. (The end justify the means as my Jesuit teachers used to say).
    But I have one big problem with the idea that the market alone will direct growth. Maybe so for areas that are wealthy and urban or suburban. Less so for poor and rural areas. I remember the college summers I spent working a little newspaper in Eastern North Carolina. I was fascinated that there were so many agencies dedicated to locating federal money for this sewer or that. It was all about federal money. Then I had a moment of clarity — the area was too poor to have the “free market” direct growth. It might happen for the the landed gentry or incoming retirees but not for average folks. Without the subsidies they’d be living in pretty bad places. no “free market magic” for them!

  6. cpzilliacus Avatar

    James A. Bacon wrote:

    Water-sewer charges typically are applied uniformly across a service area, regardless of how much it costs to provide the service.

    Jim, please remember that water and sewer systems are designed in part to take advantage of geography, not distance.

    That is why (for example) sewage from Dulles Airport in Loudoun and Fairfax Counties is treated at the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in the “far” Southwest quadrant of the District of Columbia (next to I-295 (Anacostia Freeway)). It flows downhill (mostly by gravity) via the Potomac Interceptor to a large pumping station under the D.C. end of the T. Roosevelt Bridge (I-66), and then through a force main under the D.C. shore of the Potomac River to Blue Plains.

  7. larryg Avatar

    re: terrain… exactly… and sometimes watersheds match up with boundaries (when kings’ grants boundaries often aligned with natural features like ridges and creeks/rivers.

    but sewer likes gravity even pump stations are used.

  8. DJRippert Avatar

    There are no cities in Virginia. No place has the combination of density (5,000 per sq mi) and population (300,000 or more) that I would use to define a city. Therefore, it is very hard to understand how these supposed subsidies work here.–population-density–county-rank.htm

    If this is a case of higher density areas in one county subsidizing lower density areas in the same county – well, that might make sense. However, even that argument starts to break down under closer examination.

    A $200,000 cottage house in a densely developed area pays 1/5th of the real estate taxes of a $1M house in a less densely developed area. Does the $1M house really have location variable costs more than 5X the costs of the cottage house?

    The smart growthers will try to move the house by house argument to an acre by acre argument. They will contend that an acre with 8 cottage style homes worth $200,ooo each pays more in real estate taxes than a $1M house on its own acre. Of course, that analysis forgets public school costs. Those eight cottage style homes most likely have far more school age children than the single $1M home. Given that, the less densely populated acres may well be subsidizing the more densely populated acres.

    The big logical #fail in these analyses is the belief that real estate taxes are somehow equalized over less dense development and more dense development. Consider a simple example:

    Two house are right next to each other. One is on a quarter acre and the other on a third of an acre. The house on the third of an acre is brand new while the house on the quarter acre is very old, poorly maintained and basically falling apart. One house is assessed at $150,000 while the other is assessed at $450,000. Who is subsidizing who?

    If you really want to get into this debate properly you’d have to analyze the actual level of subsidy you believe specific houses in low density areas receive vs the amount of real estate taxes paid. Then, you’d have to do the same in high density areas.

    Finally, the mortgage example seems particularly ridiculous. Having lived in Manhattan (without a car) and in Virginia (with a car) I can say for a fact that my costs of living in Manhattan were higher than in Virginia – car or not. The idea that owning a car in a low cost area makes you less creditworthy than not having the $4,500 per year car expense in a high cost area seems like a stretch – to say the least. In the recent meltdown was it the people living in rural areas (with high annual automobile costs) who were the most likely to default on their mortgages?

    1. larryg Avatar

      re: ” There are no cities in Virginia.”

      SUPER observation!

      overall density in Fairfax (for example) is 2,761/sq m.

      Richmond is 3,269.43 sq mi
      Norfolk is 4,488/sq mi

      to provide perspective – one square mile is 640 acres so overall Fairfax county has about 4.3 people per acre. That’s close to a residential subdivision number.

      not the whole story – because cities density includes road/other public infrastructure.

      but if you did a sub-area density map of a place like Fairfax, or Arlington, etc.. in the style of some we’ve seen from Luke here lately.. what would it look like? Has BR shown color-coded density maps of places like Fairfax before?

      oops.. speak of the devil !!

  9. DJRippert Avatar

    Finally, if high density subsidizes low density then I don’t know why we accept anybody living in rural areas other than people actually engaged in food production.

    Jim – are you and your fellow conservatives really ready to start clamoring for the depopulation of those heavily Republican, low density rural locales?

    Yeah, I thought not.

  10. Don, don’t presume what you don’t know.

    Do I think people living in rural areas should pay their location-variable costs? You bet! Rural localities smear their populations over the whole county just like suburban counties do (but at even lower densities). It makes far more economic sense for rural residents to cluster in villages. They should be free to live wherever they want… as long as they pay their full location-variable costs. Would that make living in “exurbia” more expensive. Yup. Would a lot of people move. Probably.

    I didn’t notice you leaving a comment on my recent post, “The Long, Sad Demise of Small Town America.” I made it pretty clear that America’s small towns are not economically viable. I made the same argument there:

    “Micropolitan communities should consider the virtues of smart growth. All small towns — those in Virginia, at least — are mini replicas of metro Washington, Richmond and Hampton Roads in having allowed auto-centric growth to leak into surrounding counties even as the urban core struggles to maintain its population. The consequence of a dispersed population is that it becomes more expensive to provide citizens with infrastructure and public services than it need be, thus making it more difficult to maintain the quality of public services needed to attract new residents and businesses. (Every mayor of a small Virginia city should become a faithful reader of the Strong Towns blog based on the observations of Charles Marohn in Brainerd, Minn., who chronicles the foolhardy investment of scarce small-town resources in infrastructure projects that yield little value.)”

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      The logical extension to your argument is for you to call for rural communities to pay for their location variable costs – including the costs of maintaining a population greater than the local economy can support. That would entail cutting off the money flow from Virginia’s urban and suburban areas to Virginia’s rural areas. Is that what you propose? If so, I will retract my criticism.

      As for your claim that “Rural localities smear their populations over the whole county just like suburban counties do …” you really need to watch your facts.

      Most people would think that you include Arlington County in your definition of “suburban counties”. However, Arlington County has higher population density than any city in Virginia other than Alexandria.

      As I demonstrated with my link – of Virginia’s 12 most densely populated places, 7 are in NoVa. In fact, of the 1,846,158 people who live in the 12 most densely populated places, 1,506,310 live in NoVa. In other words, 82% of the people living in Virginia’s 12 most densely populated places are Northern Virginians. Only 18% of the people living in Virginia’s 12 most densely populated places are from outside Northern Virginia.

      You should change your wording. Northern Virginia’s “suburban counties” are already many of the most densely populated jurisdictions of any type in Virginia. The vast majority of Virginians living in dysfunctional low density localities are living outside of NoVa. Therefore, your argument about subsidies is yet another example of NoVa subsidizing RoVa.

      I notice that your own county of Henrico ranks #28 on the list of population density. I also notice that your local “city center” of Richmond has both a lower population density and fewer people than our “city center” of Arlington.

      I applaud your call for the Richmond metropolitan area to stop accepting subsidies from the far more efficiently settled area of core NoVa.

      When may I expect my rebate from you Richmonders?

      1. larryg Avatar

        re: ” That would entail cutting off the money flow from Virginia’s urban and suburban areas to Virginia’s rural areas. Is that what you propose? If so, I will retract my criticism.”

        then let’s repeal the law that says the rural areas MUST take your used poop and trash and let the rural areas charge you as much as they can for it and let any counties that don’t want it – refuse to take it. that ought to drive the price up nicely for the ones that will – for the right amount of money.

        ditto for food. food raised in rural areas should have a urban supplement charge on it to pay for the environmental cleanup required for cattle and poultry raised in the country.. polluting the streams but sold to urban areas.

        ditto for electricity. there should be charges for the costs to clean up coal ash … rather than right now just piling it up next to rivers and letting it wash into them.

        storm water – ditto. CSO’s ditto. transit. ditto. all of these things – cities should be paying for by themselves not all taxpayers of the state and US – right?

        how about it?


        1. DJRippert Avatar


          Farmers should be compelled by law to minimize agricultural runoff – whether that is from livestock or fertilizer. If that makes food more expensive, so be it. Of course, the farmers who fail to undertake clean farming practices pollute other areas for all the food they grow so the surcharge should be on all food, not just food sold in particular markets.

          Urban and suburban localities should be compelled to deal with runoff from development. If that means higher taxes to fix ecological disasters like Fairfax County’s Accotink Creek, so be it. If that entails a “rain tax” like Maryland imposed, so be it.

          The total costs of generating electricity (including clean up of coal ash, etc) should be factored into the price of electricity.

          Rural areas should charge whatever they want for landfills, etc.

          As for sewage – the sewage from Northern Fairfax County (where I live) is pumped under the Potomac River to a treatment center known as Blue Plains in Washington, DC. I assume the city of Washington charges Fairfax County who, in turn, charge people with sewer connections. Meanwhile, I assume that any sediment dumped by Blue Plains in a rural area is charged back to Blue Plains who builds it into their prices.

          Once again, it’s the conservative Republicans who resist ending the subsidies like these. It was Ken Cuccinelli who opposed making Fairfax County clean up Accotink Creek thereby ending a negative subsidy to those living downstream. It is Republican Attorneys General (from states far from the Chesapeake) who are opposing the agricultural run off legislation …

          BTW, LarryG – that effort by the American Farm Bureau is essentially an effort by rural areas to avoid being forced to clean up their own filth.

          The biggest single complaint I have against the modern Republican Party is their anti-environmental position. It’s disgraceful and totally contrary to their supposed philosophy of personal responsibility.

          1. larryg Avatar

            DJ we have an interesting confluence of agreement on virtually all of what you said.

            and we apparently agree that the rural “subsidies” are – not only the burbs but also the urban.

            BTW – counties in Va – by Va law cannot reject blue plains sludge or DC trash – not even NY/NJ trash apparently.

            but most farmers don’t “pollute” just to be polluting.. big lagoons of hog poop or coal ash are not put there just to be putting it there. they are by-products from demand mostly urban that is characterized in a way to portray the burbs as being subsidized and the urban not.

            we’ve had a discussion about storm water runoff and it’s asserted that compact urban-style development can meet or exceed current laws by “harvesting” rainwater… etc.. while at the same time, Washington and parts of NoVa are building 2.3 billion dollars of tunnels to “store/sequester” runoff that ultimately will be funneled to blue plains.


            re: ” true cities”..

            can you look at this map:


            and tell me if there are PARTS of Fairfax that qualify as “city”?


  11. larryg Avatar

    DJ we have an interesting confluence of agreement on virtually all of what you said.

    and we apparently agree that the rural “subsidies” are – not only the burbs but also the urban.

    BTW – counties in Va – by Va law cannot reject blue plains sludge or DC trash – not even NY/NJ trash apparently.

    but most farmers don’t “pollute” just to be polluting.. big lagoons of hog poop or coal ash are not put there just to be putting it there. they are by-products from demand mostly urban that is characterized in a way to portray the burbs as being subsidized and the urban not.

    we’ve had a discussion about storm water runoff and it’s asserted that compact urban-style development can meet or exceed current laws by “harvesting” rainwater… etc.. while at the same time, Washington and parts of NoVa are building 2.3 billion dollars of tunnels to “store/sequester” runoff that ultimately will be funneled to blue plains.

    do a search for :

    ” Meet Lady Bird, a massive machine digging out a solution to D.C. wastewater woes”

    re: ” true cities”..

    can you look at this map:

    and tell me if there are PARTS of Fairfax that qualify as “city”?


  12. cpzilliacus Avatar

    larryg wrote:

    BTW – counties in Va – by Va law cannot reject blue plains sludge or DC trash – not even NY/NJ trash apparently.

    Well, a fair amount of that Blue Plains sludge comes from sewage that is “generated” in Virginia.

    Regarding trash, it seems Charles City County wants trash and more trash, since they are not getting enough (according to a report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: Less trash led to less funding for Charles City County schools).

    1. larryg Avatar

      King George county east of Fredericksburg has a mega landfill also and the county gets a pretty penny that helps their bottom line.

      but when it got permitted it became understood that while the county could put regulations on it.. they could not stop it from being sited there as the permit comes from the state just as bio-solid application does.

      we have proposals for permits for over 5000 acres right now in Spotsylvania and the only thing the county can do is put some additional monitoring regulations in place.

      but you’ll find in most of the exurbs that ring NoVa – get bio-solids (waste water treatment sludge).

      so we have to do something with our own – which we do – then we have to accept as many acres of it as the companies that spread it can lease.

      I’m not NIMBY opposed to it but it is nasty stuff. It not only has latex and feminine sanitary detritus, etc.. but heavy metals and pharmaceuticals which do not bio-degrade and ultimately over several rain events migrate downhill.

      Florida has a new plant that uses sludge as fuel. It has to dry out a bunch first so it will burn then it uses that heat to dry out more and use that for fuel, etc.

      it’s not a cheap as spreading it on fields but it pretty much gets rid of much of it and leaves an ash residue that can be easily landfilled.

      1. larryg Avatar

        fascinating article – and HOPEFUL!

        but better.. not perfect -yet:

        ” Then it goes through a treatment process that turns it into what the Environmental Protection Agency categorizes as class B waste, enough to fill 60 big dump trucks with 1,600 tons of product every day.

        And out the gate it goes, at a cost of $16 million a year.
        and afterwards:

        “The product that has been trucked from Blue Plains is rated class B. But the product that comes out of the digester will be rated class A.

        The difference?

        Class B still has some bad stuff in it. Most of it is shipped to farmers, some in Maryland but most of them in Virginia. They get it free, but unless they let it sit for at least a month, and sometimes up to 18 months, the only things they can use it to fertilize are trees and sod used by landscapers.

        Class A product can be used right away on anything, including fields that grow the fruits and vegetables you buy at the grocery store and serve for dinner.

        Once the digester’s work is done, the remaining product will be drained out into dump trucks, but their total load will be cut in half to about 600 tons a day.”

        so much better.. I feel much more comfortable with Class A….

        thanks for the article!

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