Rapid City Regional Airport will cease dumping sewage on its property and truck it off-site instead, executive director Patrick Dame said Monday.
The announcement comes days after it was revealed that the airport spread approximately 74,100 gallons of wastewater across the northern end of its property without permission from state regulators. Dame said the airport plans to resume the practice if the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources issues the necessary permit.
"It's a natural, commonly used process," he said.
The DENR does allow entities that obtain a permit to "land apply" septic waste on flat ground where there is little chance of human exposure, but it requires water sampling and other tests to be conducted first. Dame reasserted during a press conference on Monday that the department did not make clear that a permit was needed when the airport first reached out for clearance.
"We asked them, ‘Are we capable of doing that on-site?’ And they said ‘yes.' And so we proceeded out of that meeting with a level of confidence that we could move to do this spreading on-site," Dame said.
The DENR confirmed Monday through spokesman Brian Walsh that it was contacted by the airport before the wastewater was dumped, but it could not say whether it failed to communicate the need for a permit. Walsh noted, however, that the airport officials spoke with a surface water expert with "lots of experience."
In an effort to keep the septic lagoon from overflowing after a period of heavy rainfall, Dame said, the airport worked with a contractor last month to siphon off the contents of the lagoon and haul it away. The lagoon neared capacity again not long after, he said, prompting the airport to explore the speedier option of spreading it on-site.
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After Monday's press event, Rapid City spokesman Darrell Shoemaker said that Mayor Steve Allender supported Dame's decision in light of the circumstances that surrounded it.
Hills Septic Services — the contractor — did not alert the airport that a permit was needed, according to Dame. He said that if he had the chance to do anything differently, he would have asked more questions of the DENR.
If upgrades are made, Dame said, it is believed that a septic system will be able to sufficiently serve the airport into the future. He said that a 2017 study recommended upgrading the lining of the lagoon and constructing a new system with two basins, among other options.
But an ongoing environmental assessment of the lagoon prevents the airport from making any immediate upgrades to it, Dame said.
“Nothing can move until the environmental assessment is complete,” he said.
Dame said wastewater samples from the lagoon, meanwhile, were sent off late last week for lab analysis.
The airport's board of directors will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday, although nothing pertaining to wastewater dumping is listed on the agenda.