County councilman adds his voice to debate over Cedar Grove odors

EVERETT — Snohomish County Council Chairman Brian Sullivan is sticking his nose into the battle between Cedar Grove Composting and its neighbors over foul odors around the company’s Smith Island facility.

Sullivan’s move comes just as a regulatory agency has settled with Cedar Grove over last summer’s fine for air quality violations. Those parties also report nearing a contract for an outside company to electronically monitor smells in the area. Their plan, however, may not do much to put neighbors at ease — or make the stink go away.

“No one wants to go down the road of deepening conflict on this issue, but communities have a right to defend themselves from impacts,” Sullivan’s letter says. “I believe that if all the involved parties work together in good faith, we can arrive at a solution to this continuing problem that satisfies everyone involved.”

A rotten stench emanating from Everett’s Smith Island has for years irked neighbors in Marysville, north Everett and the Tulalip area. It tends to be worst on warm, clear days when people are most tempted to spend time outdoors.

Cedar Grove has pointed to other area businesses as the possible source, but many neighbors say the cause is clear — Cedar Grove’s operations to turn food scraps and other organic waste into compost.

Sullivan on Tuesday mailed his letter to Cedar Grove CEO Steve Banchero.

In it, he asked the company to stop legal appeals and pay the $119,000 fine it received for odor violations at its sites in Everett and Maple Valley. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency issued the fine for 17 violations recorded in 2009 and 2010. When the company appealed, the Pollution Control Hearings Board upheld the fine but reduced the amount from the original $169,000 in recognition of money the company had spent on upgrades designed to curb odors.

Sullivan on Wednesday said he sent the letter in part because his council district now includes the Tulalip area, in addition to Everett and Mukilteo, following boundary changes that took effect this year. He hoped that adding his voice would help reach a solution.

“I’ve got friends on both sides,” he said. “Hopefully, my effort will help and not hinder to resolve it.”

The county plays no direct role in policing the odors. The city of Everett and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, not the county, are in charge of issuing permits for the operation.

Cedar Grove spokesman Laird Harris said the company had not received Sullivan’s letter in the mail as of Wednesday afternoon, but would be ready to work with him. When provided an electronic copy of the letter, Harris noted what he said were several inaccuracies.

For instance, Sullivan raised concern over the future closure of Cedar Grove’s Maple Valley facility and asked what will happen to the food and organic waste processed there. He also asked about plans to increase the amount of waste processed on Smith Island once Cedar Grove obtains permits for an anaerobic digester, designed to extract energy from the waste.

Both concerns are off-base, according to Harris.

“There are no plans to close the Maple Valley facility in the near future,” he said. “There are no plans to increase the tonnage at the Everett facility.”

As for further litigation over the fine, Harris said, that’s over, too.

Cedar Grove on Wednesday reached a settlement with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to drop further appeals of the fine. The company has agreed to pay $200,000 — the fine amount plus $81,000 — to place several electronic smell monitors around the area.

Cedar Grove “believes that the agreement is another step in the right direction,” according to a company statement. “The settlement means that we can avoid litigation and, instead, put our resources into things that can improve odor monitoring and management.”

Separately, the agency is working to finalize a $375,000 contract with Canadian firm, Odotech Inc., to place electronic “noses” in the Everett-Marysville area to identify smells, said Laurie Halvorson, the agency’s compliance and legal director. Costs would be shared by Cedar Grove, the clean air agency, and the city of Seattle and King County, whose garbage ends up in Everett.

The program would take place in three phases, starting with an assessment, followed by placing the electronic noses at strategic sites and finally forming an odor-monitoring committee made up of community members.

“The goal of that project is not to assign blame for the origins of odor or the sources of odor,” Halvorson said. “It’s a way for people to learn about what’s going on in their community and to learn about what they might be detecting in a more trained way.”

A leader from neighbors’ group was thrilled that Sullivan has lent his voice to the argument, not so excited about news of the settlement or the potential contract for an outside monitor.

“We’ve been trying to get some major players into the game for three years now. It’s fantastic in our view,” said Mike Davis from Citizens for a Smell-Free Snohomish County.

News of the settlement or the likely contract with a monitoring company, however, brought him little hope of Cedar Grove taking immediate steps to fix the problem.

“It sounds like they get an out,” Davis said. “I’m tired of the studies, I’m tired of the continued time and effort and money.”

It also fails to address his group’s concern over the new digester Cedar Grove is trying to bring on line, he said. The group believes it will add to the volume of waste processed, something Cedar Grove said is not the case.

A permit for that equipment is pending with Everett city officials and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465,

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