Cedar Grove study would use sophisticated odor sensors

MARYSVILLE — Another study could be done to trace odors coming from the Snohomish River delta, an investigation prompted by complaints against Cedar Grove Composting.

The purpose of the new study, which would involve monitoring equipment, would be to provide an enforcement tool, either against Cedar Grove or any other identified source of offensive odors in the area, supporters said.

In the study being discussed now, sensors that supposedly can distinguish between types of odors would be placed at Cedar Grove and other suspected odor sources, such as the Marysville wastewater plant.

“I really think this about increasing enforcement, and when you get a smell (after this study) you’ll have the evidence for prosecution,” said state Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who brought some of the opposing parties together last year on the issue.

Marysville is skeptical but willing to listen, city administrator Gloria Hirashima said.

The study “is actually a diversionary tactic that could result in a longer delay in solving the problem,” she said. “For whatever reason, the odor they generate (at Cedar Grove) is particularly offensive to people.”

Marysville and the Tulalip Tribes have been working in unison on the issue, along with people living in Everett. They have been at odds with Cedar Grove over the source of a strong stench that has permeated neighborhoods in Marysville and north Everett the past few summers.

Inspectors from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency have traced several complaints to Cedar Grove. They’ve fined the company twice. Cedar Grove officials say there are other potential sources in the area, such as the wastewater treatment plant and Pacific Topsoils.

So far, offensive odors have not been traced to these locations.

If the study shows Cedar Grove is the main source of the odors, company spokesman Laird Harris said, “they will do their part” to correct them.

Cedar Grove recently suffered a setback when it was told it had to prepare a full environmental study before building a planned anaerobic digester, which would have used waste to generate methane gas. The company has since dropped the project.

The new study about the bad odors along the river delta is being discussed by a panel of officials from governments and waste haulers in the Puget Sound area. Agencies on the panel include Seattle Public Utilities, the solid waste departments in Snohomish and King counties, the Snohomish Health District and the clean air agency.

A preliminary agreement was reached last year on a similar study but the idea was dropped earlier this year when the sides could not agree on some details. That study would have cost $375,000. Of that, $200,000 would have come from Cedar Grove, $100,000 from Seattle, $50,000 from King County and $25,000 from the clean air agency. No price tag has been put on a new study, but the state Department of Ecology is prepared to kick in $250,000, said Laurie Davies, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Dunshee brought the parties to the table last year to discuss the issue. Marysville, which has been permeated by smells the past few summers, is in Dunshee’s district.

Marysville objected last year to the selection of Odotech of Montreal, Canada, to supply the equipment and conduct the study. The city wanted to investigate other vendors, Hirashima said. Odotech has sold odor detection equipment to Cedar Grove, which it still uses on its property.

The other study “wasn’t transparent and it asked us to trust that Cedar Grove and Odotech would work in our interests,” she said.

Dunshee said Odotech is one of the few companies in North America that makes the type of odor-detection equipment needed for the study.

“They look like the best technology for doing this,” he said.

When the sides reached an impasse, Dunshee and the clean air agency went ahead on trying to make the study happen without Marysville or the Tulalips.

“We proceeded because they had said ‘No,’” Dunshee said.

Marysville wasn’t aware for a few months, Hirashima said. When city and tribal officials got wind of it in February, they objected to the clean air agency. The study was dropped before it was ever approved.

All of the parties are once again talking about how to make the study happen.

Cedar Grove uses Odotech equipment to detect odors coming off the plant’s property, and a weather station to correlate odors with conditions, Harris said. The company has used the equipment and other efforts to detect and control odors the past few years, but Marysville and many residents say not much has changed.

The company says the equipment has shown that some of the complaints against the company could not have been valid because they did not line up with weather conditions at the time.

Cedar Grove recently paid for a survey that showed 58 percent of Marysville residents wanted a third-party study done. It was based on 400 phone surveys taken June 7. The company also is paying signature gatherers to go door to door to round up support for the study, Harris said. So far more than 250 signatures have been gathered, he said.

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

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