1-year odor study met with objections in Marysville

MARYSVILLE — A planned study of odors in the Snohomish River delta could finally get at the heart of a sour smell that’s plagued Everett and Marysville neighborhoods in recent years, proponents say.

Others — including the city of Marysville and the Tulalip Tribes, and most of the people who attended a meeting on the subject this week — don’t believe it.

They note that the odor has been traced multiple times to Cedar Grove Composting on Smith Island by inspectors for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and not to any other operation. The agency has twice levied fines against the Everett plant and Cedar Grove has failed to meet some of the conditions of its permit, but the stench has persisted for four years, they said.

The $375,000 study likely won’t be finished until about a year and a half from now.

“It seems to us like another year of stall tactics,” resident Gayle Moffat said at Tuesday’s meeting in Marysville, attended by about 100 people.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is conducting the study, expected to start at the end of this year and take until the end of 2013.

The study will provide around-the-clock data that could be used to support the case for more odor enforcement, said Craig Kenworthy, executive director of the Clean Air Agency, who ran Tuesday’s meeting.

The study would be done with a combination of odor monitors and the observations of a group of residents who will volunteer to record their experiences.

Cedar Grove is putting up $200,000 for the study. Fines recently paid by the company for odor violations, totalling $119,000, will be applied toward that amount. The city of Seattle and King County, which both send yard and food waste to Cedar Grove for composting, are putting up $100,000 and $50,000, respectively. The Clean Air Agency is spending $25,000.

The study would be done with four new odor monitors, also called “e-noses,” purchased from Odotech of Montreal, Canada, and four already purchased by Cedar Grove and located on the company’s property.

The notes taken by the volunteers will be compared with those from the monitors. Recruiting has not yet begun for the volunteer group and details haven’t been worked out. Kenworthy estimated the group would consist of 10 to 20 people.

Cedar Grove has already paid Odotech $200,000 for the four monitors currently in use, according to documents obtained by Marysville. That’s a big reason why the city of Marysville and the Tulalip Tribes objected to the study as it’s constructed — they’re not convinced the results would be objective.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring and city administrator Gloria Hirashima confronted Kenworthy at Tuesday’s meeting. Just last month, Kenworthy decided to hold off on the study because of the city’s and tribes’ objections. More meetings were held to try to bring all the parties together. Then, just a few weeks later, the Clean Air Agency changed course and decided to go ahead with the study.

“The process was seriously rigged, it was seriously flawed,” Hirashima said.

The city suggested an alternative that involved using other types of odor-detection equipment and more inspection, “and you discarded it in a matter of days,” Nehring said.

Mel Sheldon, chairman of the board of directors for the Tulalip Tribes, was more measured in his remarks but nonetheless suggested a different course.

“I would urge you to look really hard at it,” he said.

Kenworthy responded that the agency looked for other vendors and could not find another with equipment as sophisticated as that provided by Odotech.

“We did decide we needed to move forward in some manner to gather data,” Kenworthy said. Without Odotech’s equipment, “we would not get the real-time information we need to learn about what’s going on.”

The “e-noses” are small, box-like structures with a candy-cane shaped tube that sticks out, upside down, to catch passing odors, said Steve Van Slyke, manager of compliance for the Clean Air Agency.

The incoming air passes over 16 bump-like sensors that send information to an electronic data processor inside the box, he said.

Most odor monitors have only about four sensors, or are calibrated to detect certain odors, which gives the Odotech type the edge, Van Slyke said.

“I’ve looked really hard to find if there’s anybody else that has something that does what we’re trying to do, and I haven’t been able to find it,” he said.

The monitors will likely be placed close to potential odor sources, such as Pacific Topsoils and the Everett and Marysville sewage plants in addition to Cedar Grove, Van Slyke said.

Many at the meeting said the study isn’t necessary to begin with. The Clean Air Agency has enforcement power over smells from nonindustrial sources in Snohomish, King, Pierce and Kitsap counties. To cite a company for odor violations, the agency sends an inspector to the address of a complaint call and must immediately trace the odor to the source.

The $119,000 in fines were based on such incidents both at Everett and the company’s plant in King County. Inspectors also have traced the odor to the Everett plant on other occasions for which it was not fined.

“It’s your job to do something about it, damn it, so do your job,” Marysville City Councilman Steve Muller told Kenworthy.

Marysville public works director Kevin Nielsen suggested using the fines to hire another enforcement officer and station that officer in Marysville. The agency has only 12 enforcement officers to cover four counties and often can’t respond to a complaint at all or in time to trace the smell.

Kenworthy didn’t rule out adding an inspector but said several times he needs more information to take significant action against a company, which could include increasing the fines or shutting it down.

“I have to be able to make the case to take those actions,” he said.

“I’m not asking you to trust us on this,” Kenworthy said. “I’m asking you to keep an open mind about what we get from the study.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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