Cedar Grove fine stands

EVERETT — Cedar Grove Composting has been ordered to pay $119,000 in fines for odor violations at its operations in Everett and Maple Valley.

The fines were slapped on the company last year by the Puget Sound Clea

n Air Agency for 17 violations at the two plants in 2009 and 2010 — two at the Everett location and 15 at Maple Valley.

Cedar Grove earlier this year appealed the fines to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board. The board turned down the appeal in a 66-page ruling issued Thursday.

The north Everett company has been the target of regular complaints about bad smells the past few years, especially from people living in Marysville and north Everett. The odor has been likened to rotting garbage or silage.

“The odors emanating from the facilities have interfered with the reasonable enjoyment of life and property of a large number of surrounding residents,” the ruling read. “In that regard, the violations are serious, and have been ongoing and repetitive.”

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 fines originally totaled $169,000, but the board knocked $50,000 off in deference to Cedar Grove’s expenditures the past few years on measures to curb the odors.

The board said Cedar Grove has spent $6.5 million on odor control at the two locations combined, some of it voluntarily and some as a result of earlier violations.

Company spokesman Laird Harris said Cedar Grove plans to appeal parts of the ruling, declining to specify further.

Harris said the company recently invested more than $1 million in a computerized odor-detection system at the Everett plant. Cedar Grove also plans to enclose the open-air machine it uses in Everett to grind yard and food waste into compostable material, he said.

“The company plans to continue its work with the (clean air agency) and other agencies to establish an odor-monitoring program that is science-based, trusted by all parties and provides a comprehensive approach that includes and differentiates between odor sources,” Harris said in a written statement.

The board didn’t buy arguments by Cedar Grove that some of the events were unlikely based on weather conditions on the days of the violations. In Everett, those days were Aug. 24, 2009 and May 25, 2010.

The board noted that investigators visited the homes of the people who complained and smelled the stink themselves. They traced the same odor back to Cedar Grove, stopping to rule out other potential sources of odor, such as nearby Pacific Topsoils, the Snohomish River mudflats, the Kimberly Clark plant on the Everett waterfront, Naval Station Everett, the Everett sewage treatment plant and Buse Lumber.

Mike Davis of Marysville is the leader of Citizens for a Smell Free Snohomish County, a group formed around the odor problem. He applauded the fine.

“It’s about time,” Davis said in a written statement. “We’ve been waiting for someone to hold Cedar Grove accountable for their noxious odors. We’re tired of Cedar Grove denying any responsibility and blaming everybody else while people all around the region can’t even enjoy their own yards because of the huge stench.”

Later, he said the company’s plan to enclose its grinding machine is a good idea. So far, he said, the other odor control measures haven’t worked.

He said the odor came on later this year than usual because of the cool weather, but it’s been around every day since the end of June. He said others copy him in on complaints sent to the clean air agency.

“I get at least two or three a day every day,” Davis said.

In its ruling, the Pollution Control Hearings Board characterized Cedar Grove’s responsiveness to the odor problem as “somewhat mixed.”

“Cedar Grove has at some points in time denied responsibility for the odors, directed responsibility toward other businesses, and been non-responsive to the (violation notices) issued by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency,” the board said in its ruling.

At the same time, the company has investigated odor-control technology, made changes to its operations and invested the funds in an attempt to curb the smell, the report said.

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

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