The Smith Island company expects to process more than three times more organic waste than it does today, according to documents filed with state and federal agencies.
This could be bad news for people who live in Marysville and north Everett who over the past three years have complained about an odor they believe is coming from Cedar Grove Composting. Numerous complaints about odor in the area have been traced to the operation by inspectors for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
Three years ago, the company applied to the Army Corps of Engineers to greatly expand its composting capacity and to build an anaerobic digester to generate electricity from the methane gas found in compost.
According to a public notice on the plans jointly issued in August 2009 by the Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Ecology, the purpose of the application is for Cedar Grove to process up to 620,000 tons of waste per year. This compares to 170,000 tons processed in 2008 and 195,000 tons last year.
Right now, company officials say they only want to build the electricity plant and have no plans to expand their capacity to process compost.
The plant would not require more compost material than Cedar Grove is currently receiving, company spokesmen have said. The anaerobic digester will be enclosed and will not affect odor, they said.
However, the company is not ruling out further expansion down the road.
"As for the future, any expansion plans or technology plans will be project specific and subject to environmental review," company spokesman Bryan Cohen said.
Other than brief e-mail responses to questions, the company is saying little about its plans.
The company is phasing out its other compost facility in Maple Valley in King County and will eventually need more capacity to meet the demands of a growing market, Cedar Grove consultants wrote in an analysis provided to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Because either the anaerobic digester or any other expansion plans at Smith Island involve filling in wetlands, the Corps of Engineers required the company to consider building on sites other than Smith Island.
"They need to show they can't do that," said Matt Bennett, an environmental analyst with the Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle. "We're having them go throughout Snohomish and King counties looking for other available land where they could do this where it would not have the same impact on wetlands."
Analysis was done on at least 26 potential sites, at least 16 of them in Snohomish County, as an alternative to filling in wetlands on Smith Island, according to documents.
"No suitable sites were found," said Laird Harris, another spokesman for Cedar Grove.
Officials at the Corps of Engineers don't necessarily agree, yet.
"They've provided us with some information that's under review," Bennett said.
The company plans to apply soon with the city of Everett to build the energy plant. It will ask for permission to fill 14 acres of wetlands on its 70-acre property, Cohen said. In exchange, it would create new wetlands. The company isn't saying how much. It also isn't releasing a cost estimate for the energy plant. And company officials aren't saying how much power the plant could generate.
Cedar Grove contracts with local governments to receive all compostable organic waste collected by waste haulers in Snohomish County. It grinds and cures the material and sells the finished product as compost for gardens.
The company's Everett plant and its facility in Maple Valley have both been cited and fined for odor violations by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
When the company asked to expand its composting operation and build the energy plant in 2007, Cedar Grove was required to ask the Army Corps of Engineers to sign off on the wetlands plan.
Company officials wanted to fill 12.4 acres of wetlands and said they would re-create 4.8 acres of wetlands on the site and 11.3 acres of intertidal salt marsh habitat.
At the time, the company estimated the cost of its plan for total expansion at $60 million.
"The purpose of the proposed project is to expand the existing organics recycling operations at Cedar Grove Compsting's Smith Island facility to meet the rapidly growing needs of the northern Puget Sound marketplace," the company wrote in its application. "The primary components needed to address that need are aerobic composting, anaerobic digestion, energy recovery, and processing of mixed organic wastes."
The company has been going back and forth with the Army Corps of Engineers for three years making adjustments to their plans, with other government agencies providing input.
While the company says the energy plant won't require more composting capacity, documents show the company believes it will need greater ability to handle waste.
Cedar Grove has been receiving a steadily increasing amount of food waste from Seattle and King County since 2006, said Cohen, spokesman for the company. More than 1,500 restaurants there have signed up with Cedar Grove to donate food waste.
About 600,000 tons of food and yard waste in Snohomish and King counties is recyclable into compost each year, according to the estimates in a 2007 report by consultants Mark Wolken and Associates of Everett.
Many jurisdictions still do not have curbside recycling, the report said.
The Maple Valley facility is being phased out because of odor problems there -- it's closer to residential areas than the Smith Island plant -- and because the site is unsuitable for expansion, the report said.
"Growth by increased participation alone will require Cedar Grove to expand its operations in the near future," the report said. "This growth rate will be compounded by new people in the area as well as those already here choosing to participate in the food and yard waste collection programs or increase their level of participation."
Since 2007, Cedar Grove has been adjusting its tonnage estimate downward from 600,000, said T.J. Stetz, an ecologist with the Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle.
"It looks like it's going in that direction but they're still working out details," he said.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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