THE ISSUE: Why has Cary spent more than $11 million on a fertilizer plant?
THE STATUS: Workers at the plant recently started turning the town's sewage sludge into hard, black fertilizer pellets the size of ball bearings.
THE DEAL: Cary leaders say the waste pellets, which smell like wet moss, mean money in the bank. The town used to spend $1.2 million a year to truck sludge of sewage-fed microorganisms to compost heaps and to farmers willing to spread it on their fields. Town utilities director Rob Bonne expects the town will spend about $795,000 to get rid of it now that the sludge is turned into pellets.
Bonne also thinks the town's fertilizer plant will make its South Cary Water Reclamation Facility plant smell better, primarily because workers can pump the stinky sludge out of the waste tanks sooner.
Cary borrowed about $11 million and got a little more than $1.3 million from the federal government to build the Triangle's first municipal sewage sludge dryer. Town officials prefer to refer to it by its official, more innocuous name: the "biosolids dryer."
Bonne said the dryer will pump out about 150,000 pounds of waste pellets per week. Eventually, he hopes to sell the pellets to a fertilizer blending company, a deal that he estimates could generate up to $60,000 a year.
Don't expect to see Cary-brand fertilizer at the hardware store anytime soon, though. Bonne expects that anyone who buys Cary's manure probably will end up mixing it with mulch from all sorts of places.