The couple live next to a field owned and used by the city for "land application" of the treated sewage, but this week city crews spread the material a little too close -- right along the property line -- for the Harmons' comfort.
"They've been doing this for years," Tom Harmon said. "But usually they stayed away from the house."
City officials agreed Wednesday to alleviate the Harmons' concerns by tilling the land in question, but said they were under no obligation to do so. They also said the sludge shouldn't present any danger or inconvenience to the couple.
"It's really no different from fertilizer, from an environmental standpoint," said Jeanette Kalamm, the city's residuals coordinator.
Tom Harmon said he noticed early Tuesday evening that city crews were injecting the sludge into a field along his north property line. Soon, he said, some of the sludge seeped to the surface.
"They put too much in the ground," he said. "It came up above and it's supposed to stay under. It's going to stink."
"Because the material's a little thicker, there may have been some pooling on the surface," Kalamm said. But she said the sludge was material cleaned from the wastewater treatment plant's "digester" -- the machine that actually treats the sewage. Since the material had essentially been treated for months, she said, there shouldn't be an odor.
Still, the Harmons called the Kansas Department of Health and Environment at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning. Within an hour, city crews were tilling the soil to plow sludge back under the surface of the ground.
Kalamm and a KDHE representative inspected the area Wednesday afternoon and agreed on another round of tilling. The KDHE rep will return to the site today.
"At this point, we don't have any reason to believe (the sludge) is not being applied properly," said Mike Heideman, KDHE spokesman.
"They've got 100 acres here," Tom Harmon said. "Why do they have to dump it 10 feet from my property line?"
Kalamm said the city injects the "biosolid" matter in the 33-acre field during times of the growing season when area farmers can't use it for fertilizer. The city tilled the soil Wednesday "to be a good neighbor," she said, but it may need to use that location to inject sludge again.
That left Marianna Harmon unsatisfied.
"They said it was treated, but to me it's still sewage," she said. "I don't like it. But what can you do?"
-- Staff writer Joel Mathis can be reached at 832-7126.