SEASIDE — A solution may be near for Seaside’s sludge situation.

Seaside Public Works Director Neal Wallace is investigating the possibility of using a dryer to create biosolid “pellets” that could be sold to local contractors as compost.

Wallace said at a Seaside City Council meeting Monday night that the used dryer could create 225 tons of dried pellets. Because the heating and drying process pasteurizes the biosolids, they don’t have to be regulated by the state Department of Environmental Quality or the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition, they won’t have to be hauled to a landfill in McMinnville, as the biosolids are now, Wallace said.

“We have a unique opportunity to take a process to an extremely advantageous end, and I don’t want to let that pass us by,” he said.

Wallace said he would work out the cost of the 10-year-old Fenton Fenix Class A dryer, which has been lightly used. The manufacturer will recondition the machine, transport it from Arizona to Seaside, help to install it and train the Seaside staff, Wallace said.

Wallace also wants to build a metal pole building to house the city’s press, which “dewaters” the biosolids, and the dryer.

The city has been forced to deal with its biosolids problem since the wastewater treatment plant went online in 1986. At first, the untreated biosolids were spread on nearby industrial forest land until the timber companies prohibited the practice in the 1990s.

A farm once owned by Russ Earl south of town and west of the highway also was used to spread the biosolids in the summer, but after the property’s purchase by the North Coast Land Conservancy that practice also stopped.

In 1993, the city began mixing lime into the biosolids, which reduces pathogens and meets EPA guidelines but still requires regulation.

The city also bought a 100-acre farm on an escarpment above the upper tidal reach of the Lewis and Clark River and spread biosolids there in the winter. Because the tanker has a capacity of 3,000 gallons, it takes about 700 trips a year to spread nearly 2 million gallons sludge a year, Wallace said.

It has also been difficult to find a summer location to deposit the biosolids, he said.

By using the lime process only, the city was able to create biosolids that are only 2 percent total suspended solids. But the addition of the belt press last year allows more liquid to be removed, and the solids have gone to 15 percent, creating a damp cake that makes it more economical to haul, Wallace said. Five dump trucks a month take the biosolids to the Riverbend Landfill in McMinnville.

More water will be shed through the drying process, creating about 90 percent solids, he said. The city could contract with local businesses interested in producing compost and marketing it locally to landscapers.

“This is about as good and green a product that you can take from a wastewater treatment plant and use it for local purposes,” Wallace said.

Although the process would “dramatically” increase the city’s use of electricity, it also would mean substantial savings in other areas. The city would no longer have to pay for transporting the biosolids, it wouldn’t have to consider buying a $225,000 system to automatically add lime to the biosolids (which is currently done by an employee) and, eventually, the city farm may not be needed, he said.

“This is the long-term solution,” Wallace added. “I think when we get the numbers together you will be pleased.”

City Councilor Stubby Lyons asked Wallace if the city could sell the biosolids directly to landscapers in bulk, but Wallace said there was nowhere inside a building to store 220 to 225 tons of pellets. If they got wet in a rainstorm, “We would be starting all over again,” Wallace said.

City Councilor Jay Barber questioned whether the biosolids could be used for the city’s community gardens, but Wallace replied that they might not be considered “organic.”

The proposal also was met with enthusiasm by City Councilor Dana Phillips.

“I never thought I’d be excited about sludge,” she said.

In other business, the City Council:

• Gave preliminary approval to a resolution raising the franchise fee paid to the city by Pacific Power from 3.5 percent to 5 percent. Final approval will be considered at the council’s next meeting on May 13.

City Manager Mark Winstanley said the current fee is one of the lowest in Oregon.

However, local attorney Donn Bauske pointed out that the franchise fee would be passed on to Pacific Power customers. He called it a hidden tax.

“The question is, how much do you want us to bleed?” Bauske asked. “Why not take it directly to the public rather than go through a side door?”

But Barber noted that the city hadn’t raised the fee in several years. The fee helps to maintain city parks and pays for other public works expenses.

“You and I and the city – we’re all looking for income to pay the bills,” said Mayor Don Larson. “The money just isn’t here. Our resources are going drier and drier.”

• Gave preliminary approval to a 4.3 percent increase for the downtown maintenance district. The final reading of the resolution allowing the increase will be read on May 13.