The company operates plants in Everett and Maple Valley. People who live in areas near both plants have complained for several years of a rotting-garbage stench they believe comes from the operations, especially during warmer months.
"It's debilitating, the smell is absolutely disgusting," said Mike Davis of Marysville, one of the plaintiffs. A few years ago, Davis formed an activist group, Citizens for a Smell Free Snohomish County.
One of the suits, listing 76 plaintiffs from Marysville and Everett, was filed in the Everett division of Snohomish County District Court. The other suit, listing about 280 people in the Maple Valley area of King County, was filed in the Renton division of King County District Court, said Todd Hageman of St. Louis, Mo., one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
A Cedar Grove spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuits. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is conducting a study of odors in the Snohomish River delta, where the composting plant is located.
"We are continuing efforts to improve odor management at the site and are awaiting the results of the odor study to determine any additional steps that may be indicated," company spokesman Laird Harris said in an email.
The suit claims that residents in the areas surrounding the plants have suffered "the loss of use and enjoyment of their properties" along with "annoyance, inconvenience and substantial personal discomfort."
Cedar Grove is paid to take yard and food waste from hauling companies around Snohomish County and parts of King County. It grinds and cures the waste into compost for sale for use in gardens. It also collects food waste from restaurants. The Everett plant opened in 2004.
Numerous odor complaints have been traced by inspectors for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to the composting operation. In 2011, the company paid $119,000 in fines for odor violations. The company contested the fines and lost.
Hageman said he's part of an alliance of law firms that has taken on several similar cases around the nation, most involving landfills, in which their clients have battled nuisance odors.
The other attorneys are Zakariah Johnson of Jacksonville, Fla., and Anthony Roisman of Lebanon, N.H. On the Cedar Grove suits, the lawyers working locally with the firm Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Coluccio, which has offices in Seattle and Hoquiam.
The lawyers are working on a contingency basis, meaning they won't get paid unless they win, Hageman said. They've won money for their clients in their previous cases, he said.
The amount of damages that can be requested through district courts is limited to $75,000 per individual, Hageman said. The final amount per person, if the group wins, will depend on the findings in the case, he said.
Hageman said he was approached by some of the plaintiffs.
"We just believe that the odor nuisance created by Cedar Grove unreasonably interfered with our clients' ability to use and enjoy their property," Hageman said.
Cedar Grove last year sued the city of Marysville after the company requested documents and the city withheld some which it said were exempt from disclosure. The company is seeking fines and penalties.
Cedar Grove has spent at least $1.7 million on odor control, according to documents obtained from the Snohomish Health District in 2010, including a new apron and roll-up doors for a large building where raw compostable material is dropped off by trucks, to minimize odors that escape.
Davis said it's not making a difference.
"We're tired of Cedar Grove, we've had enough," he said. "I think everyone has had enough and we want them to go away."
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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