Pastures at Boyceland Dairy show no evidence of contamination and could return to productive use immediately, according to a former Auburn University professor who testified Thursday on behalf of the city of Augusta.
"I was really surprised there wasn't anything growing on those fields," said Ron Haaland, a soil scientist hired by the city to explore the Boyce family's claim that their land was poisoned by sewage sludge.
Dr. Haaland was the first witness to testify on Augusta's behalf in the civil breach-of-contract case in which the Boyces are seeking $12.5 million in damages.
The Boyces claim sewage sludge placed on their land as free fertilizer contained toxic metals that poisoned and killed more than 300 cattle in the late 1990s. The city denies those claims.
Dr. Haaland testified that he supervised the gathering and testing of more than 600 soil samples taken in a scientifically approved grid pattern from sludged fields and found nothing unusual.
"We expected to find accumulated values of metals, but didn't," he said.
Under cross examination, however, Dr. Haaland acknowledged that the 600 soil samples were actually 68 samples and that each of those 68 samples were combined from nine "subsamples" taken from nine-acre areas.
Thus, any "hot spots" in the area would have been diluted through the averaging, said the plaintiff's lawyer, Ed Hallman.
Dr. Haaland countered that such sampling is widely accepted and said those tests would identify any problem areas. He conceded that even the grid tests left "99.9 percent" of the pastures untested.
Mr. Hallman also showed Dr. Haaland data from the National Research Council that listed toxic levels of metals in plants.
Those levels, compared with test results from Dr. Haaland's analysis of the Boyce farm, appeared to show some plant tissue contained toxic levels of metal.
Testimony is scheduled to resume today in Richmond County Superior Court, and the city's defense team told Judge Carlisle Overstreet that the case might be sent to jurors late today.
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.