By Susan Thoman
The town of Marysville is a great place to live. No wonder residents are outraged when foul odors encroach.
Marysville city leaders are seeking to blame the Cedar Grove Composting facility on Smith Island for the odors. But that rotten smell is coming from city government, not the compost facility.
Cedar Grove took it to heart when the city first blamed us for the odor problems. Our team took a hard look at every aspect of our operation and we made $1.5 million in improvements to reduce any odors, but oddly the complaints didn’t decline; they actually increased.
City officials continued to blame Cedar Grove, ignoring other potential odor sources including the city’s over-capacity sewage plant. City officials had decided to make Cedar Grove the fall guy.
In an effort to understand all that was behind this effort, Cedar Grove requested public documents. Marysville officials denied our requests, forcing us to go to court to get the documents.
The judge agreed that Marysville improperly withheld public documents and fined the city $143,740. That’s one of the largest Public Record Act fines ever issued against a local government in Washington. When legal fees were awarded, the cost to Marysville taxpayers exceeded $250,000.
That quarter million is just the beginning of Marysville’s wasteful spending. The documents showed that Marysville had been waging an expensive, professionally managed campaign against Cedar Grove using a Seattle-based political campaign firm — Strategies 360.
Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars went to Strategies 360 to lobby and wage a campaign that included authoring false and misleading opinion letters to be signed by others and anonymously sending out mailers to the public blaming Cedar Grove for odors.
Altogether, we believe Marysville squandered almost a million dollars that could have been used to fix roads, improve the sewage treatment plant or pay for additional police, but instead it went to political operatives, fines and attorney’s fees, and related costs.
As long as city officials continue to target Cedar Grove, they will never address the real source of the odors.
To prove Cedar Grove is not the primary source of the odors, we were more than willing to participate in a regional clean air agency community odor monitoring project that uses the latest scientific equipment capable of accurately tracking the sources of odors. The city refused to participate because they simply didn’t want to know the truth.
The study went ahead without Marysville’s cooperation, and the results are just becoming public. While the results are not as complete as they would be if the city had participated, the scientific data showed that the city’s own Waste Water Treatment Plant and low tide had reported odors in downtown Marysville as much as six times more intense than Cedar Grove.
That’s not what you’ll hear with the “spin” applied by others, but that’s what the data show.
The city would like everyone to ignore the scientific data and preserve the status quo where inspectors arbitrarily fix blame for odors using only their nose. But we shouldn’t deny science, because that is the only way to find the true source of the odors.
The Northwest is a leader in composting, a valuable environmental practice that helps reduce the waste going to landfills. We sincerely thank the people of Snohomish County for enthusiastically embracing composting as part of daily life. Cedar Grove is committed to being a good neighbor operating modern, state-of-the-art facilities in a manner to keep odors to a minimum. It is time to focus on truth, not more political spin.
Susan Thoman is vice president of Cedar Grove Composting.