The Lenz composting facility borders. (Google Earth)

The Lenz composting facility borders. (Google Earth)

Firm calls rules for expanded composting near Stanwood ‘unlawful’

Among other things, Lenz Enterprises claims a condition barring odors from its composting is “unreasonable.”

STANWOOD — Lenz Enterprises is challenging the conditions of a permit to double its composting operation off Highway 532, saying they are “unlawful” and could force the company to shutter the entire operation.

The firm obtained approval for expansion from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency in mid-January, nearly three years after applying for the permit.

But a month later, in February, lawyers for the family-owned firm filed an appeal of a dozen conditions, including one barring detectable odors arising from composting beyond the facility’s boundary and another requiring the capture of at least 98% of ammonia emissions from aerated piles.

“The conditions in the Order are unlawful or otherwise unreasonable,” attorney James Tupper wrote in the appeal.

”Several of the conditions … exceed the authority of agency, are not rational, based on the relevant facts in this matter, or reasonable. Some of the conditions may render it impossible to continue the composting operation as the conditions are made applicable to the existing and expanding composting operations,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, several Stanwood residents and Cedar Grove, another composting firm, filed a separate appeal aimed at blocking the expansion pending further analysis of its impact on the community.

They contend the clean air agency’s environmental review “was fundamentally flawed”and “failed to accurately quantify emissions” at each stage of the composting process.

Residents contend the lack of good data on air emissions “could adversely affect their health, well-being, and enjoyment of their property.”

Cedar Grove operates composting facilities in Everett and Maple Valley. It alleges the agency is not requiring Lenz abide by the same environmental standards as imposed on Cedar Grove. That could lead to “higher emissions and odors from the Lenz facility than the state Clean Air Act allows.”

Both appeals were filed with the Pollution Control Hearings Board, a three-person panel that handles appeals of clean air agency actions. The board will hold hearings on the appeals, which have been consolidated, in March 2023.

Lenz is also seeking a stay of the enforcement of the conditions it disputes.

Residents and Cedar Grove also filed for a stay to “preserve the status quo” and prevent further work on the expansion until the appeals are resolved.

The hearing board had not acted on either request as of Friday.

Barring action by the board, Lenz can proceed with the expansion under the permit issued in January.

It allows Lenz to accept up to 150,000 tons per year of compostables like food waste, yard debris and animal manure — twice what is now allowed. Currently, Lenz Enterprises material is primarily used to make gardening and landscaping products. It’s smaller than composting facilities in Everett and Maple Valley operated by Cedar Grove.

According to documents, the company will expand areas used for each stage of the composting process and install two new biofilters to capture emissions.

In the first stage, the area where material is aerating would be more than doubled. And 177,000 square feet of paved area would be added for the second phase of composting, in which piles of material are turned. With more space for aerating and pile-turning, the time spent in the curing process should be shortened and the potential for odorous emissions decreased.

Lenz also will switch from a mass bed system, whereby material aerates in large piles, to “windrow,” with material spread in long rows with valleys between the rows. Those rows, or beds, must be turned at least once every seven days under the permit.

The company received a violation notice from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency in January after it installed components for the expansion before obtaining the permit. The firm paid a $1,000 fine.

“I did not understand that this work could not commence prior to the PSCAA issued order of approval for the expansion,” Jason Lenz, vice president and general manager of the company, said in a declaration filed in opposition to the residents’ motion for a stay. “While Lenz jumped the gun … at no time has Lenz put any of the new components to use for commercial composting.”

The Lenz composting operation is within the family-owned company’s sand-and-gravel mine at 5210 Highway 532.

Composting began there in 2008. Initially, the company was permitted to accept up to 30,000 tons of organics a year.

In 2014, Lenz received permission under a temporary permit to expand and process up to 75,000 tons per year of organics. A vast majority of that material comes from the city of Seattle, though some comes from Snohomish County and other cities in King County.

Lenz applied for the permit to expand in February 2019. It supersedes the one issued in 2014.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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