EVERETT — An Everett composting operation has been given 30 days to pinpoint the source of foul odors at its site.
The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency also is requiring Cedar Grove Composting to recommend fixes to limit the pungent smells regulators suspect have overpowered Marysville in recent weeks.
The action comes as attorneys hired by two separate groups of people are asking the clean air agency to rescind the permit it granted the business in April to nearly double the tonnage of yard and food waste it recycles into compost.
Attorney Kevin Hansen, who represents a group of Everett people fed up with the smell, said he is considering a nuisance abatement lawsuit against Cedar Grove, potentially forcing the business to shut down.
The scrutiny comes at the same time Cedar Grove is seeking the city of Everett’s permission to expand its site on Smith Island so it can capture methane gas from composting material and use it to generate electricity. Some expansion of the compost operation is involved, but it would involve less pungent material and won’t happen “for many years to come,” company vice president Jerry Bartlett said.
The clean air agency mailed its notice to the business Monday, after tracing the odor to the Smith Island operation for a third time in two weeks. The 30-day period begins when the company receives the letter. Bartlett said he received notice Thursday.
Bartlett said the company is still investigating whether the stench that has many people in Marysville and north Everett holding their noses actually is coming from Cedar Grove. Other operations nearby include mulching and bark businesses, manure spreading and irrigation. The sewage treatment plants for Everett and Marysville also are nearby.
Still, Bartlett said Cedar Grove is concerned about the odor complaints and plans to address any problems the odors are creating. On a recent visit to the operation, there was no doubt the business generates a distinctive, powerful aroma.
“We’re taking it very seriously,” Bartlett said.
People in Marysville, Sunnyside and north Everett — depending which way the wind blows — have complained of a strong, foul smell they say was only an occasional nuisance for a few years. In June, many say, it intensified into an unbearable stench.
“It prevents us from being able to open our windows in the evening and during the day,” Lori Wampler of Marysville said. Her family likes to barbecue on their home’s back porch, “which we just can’t do. It literally leaves a foul taste in your mouth.”
Cedar Grove has operated on Smith Island since 2004. Its peak volume for the year came in June, Bartlett said. The permit for expansion issued in April allowed the business to take in up to 228,000 tons of material per year, compared to 123,000 before.
Last month, the operation reached 900 tons a day, compared to about 750 to 800 tons a day before, Bartlett said.
Still, Bartlett said Cedar Grove’s open-air grinder — the part of the operation to which Clean Air Agency officials traced the smell — is not running any more material through at any one time than it did before.
Hours for operating the grinder expanded by an hour or two a day, he said. It now runs from about 6 a.m. to about 5 p.m. weekdays. Bartlett said the company is considering several options for neutralizing the odor produced by the grinder. They include getting a different type of grinder, mixing in odor-control liquid with the material, enclosing the grinder in a building or a combination of those measures.
The operation is back to processing about 700 tons per day now, Bartlett said. It’ll likely increase in the fall when gathered leaves are brought to the facility, he said.
Some who’ve complained of the smell say it has been reduced lately but still lingers.
Officials at the city of Everett and the clean air agency say they had no grounds to deny the April permit that allowed Cedar Grove to increase its operations.
Gerry Ervine, a land-use manager for the city, said there were no new structures proposed. The clean air agency said it had received no complaints.
Cedar Grove’s Smith Island operation accepts food and yard waste from Snohomish County and north King County. Bartlett said the company already uses some odor control measures in the building where the materials are dumped.
Cedar Grove has run a similar composting operation in Maple Valley since 1989, where it’s incurred $500,000 in fines for odor complaints. Bartlett said the Maple Valley operation uses a different system than the one on Smith Island.
A public comment period on the planned expansion begins in about 10 days, Everett officials said. A public hearing is likely in September.
Cedar Grove officials say its composting operation helps the environment by reducing volume in landfills, and therefore greenhouse gases that have been blamed for climate change.
As part of its expansion plan, the company intends to restore wetlands and tidal habitat on Smith Island. The methane recovery operation it envisions could eventually generate enough energy to power a community the size of Marysville, Bartlett said.
“It is sizable energy production,” he said.
Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.