The Lenz composting facility borders. (Google Earth)

The Lenz composting facility borders. (Google Earth)

Odors are a concern if Stanwood composting operation expands

Air regulators drew up a draft permit that would allow Lenz Enterprises to double in size. Residents can weigh in.

STANWOOD — Residents concerned about a Stanwood firm’s plan to double the size of its composting operation off Highway 532 can share their feelings at a public hearing with regulators next week.

Lenz Enterprises is seeking permits to handle up to 150,000 tons of organic material like yard trimmings and food waste each year, twice what it is now allowed at the site.

The expansion would make it one of the largest commercial composting facilities in the state.

The proposal calls for processing to occur more hours each weekday and on Saturdays. Areas used for each stage of the composting process would be enlarged, as would the equipment used for capturing emissions and preventing odors.

Officials with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, following two years of review, concluded the project will “not have a probable significant adverse impact on the environment.” They’ve drawn up a draft Air Operating permit with conditions aimed at preventing odor emissions, runoff of contaminated water and other impacts.

A public hearing on the permit will be conducted via Zoom at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Information on how to join can be found online at pscleanair.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=101.

Also, comments on the draft permit can be submitted until April 28. They can be emailed to CaroleC@pscleanair.gov or mailed to Carole Cenci, Engineer, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, 1904 Third Ave., Suite 105, Seattle, WA, 98101.

There’s no timeline for a final decision on the permit, said Steve Van Slyke, the air quality agency’s director of compliance. Regulators will consider what they hear and receive in writing to figure out if any tweaks are needed to the permit.

“We’ll process this as expeditiously as we can,” Slyke said.

One subject expected to come up is odor. Residents are worried about the potential for what they say is an existing problem getting worse with expansion. Three residents filed formal odor complaints with the agency in late March.

Tamara Mattson, who lives near Cedar Home Elementary, filed hers March 26.

“Unhealthy odor smells like ammonia not natural farm manure,” she wrote. “They are polluting the air … no permit should be issued.”

Mattson, a seven-year resident of the city, said in an interview that it was the first time she’d taken this step. Had she known how to do it, she would have said something years ago.

“It’s an awful thing to deal with,” Mattson said. “I don’t mind if (Mr. Lenz) wants to expand his operation. I do feel he has to get a handle on his current operation. It’s horrible.”

Bruce and Peggy Kitting filed their complaint March 28. Bruce Kitting said that because of his asthma, there are days when the smell of ammonia forces him to stay inside the Stanwood home they’ve lived in since 2014.

Peggy Kitting said in an email that she notices odors at least once a month. She has started keeping a log of which days. She said she’s noticed it twice in April.

Van Slyke said he knows odor “is a sensitive issue” and conditions in the permit aim to prevent smells from reaching neighborhoods.

The permit states, “No detectable odor associated with the Lenz composting facility is allowed at or beyond the facility’s boundary.” And it requires a daily inspection of the entire facility “to monitor along and outside the property line for detectable odors from the facility.”

Also, he said, agency inspectors can patrol the perimeter as part of a regular compliance review, and they can initiate action rather than wait for a citizen complaint.

“We think it is a better permit than we’ve written in the past for composting operations,” Van Slyke said. “The point is to prevent the problems before they happen.”

Ed Wheeler, program director for Lenz, declined to comment when asked if the firm had any concerns with the permit. In a 2019 interview he described the expansion as a “pretty minor project.”

The Lenz composting operation is located 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, including compostable containers, yard debris, food waste and wood waste. It can also take in items such as animal manure, shells and marijuana waste as defined in state law.

In 2014, Lenz received permission under a temporary permit to expand and process up to 75,000 tons per year of organics, which are primarily made into a consumer product for gardening and landscaping. A vast majority of that material comes from the city of Seattle, though some comes from Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties.

That same year, the Department of Ecology cited the company for several violations, including the unlawful discharge of water containing high levels of bacteria into a neighboring creek. Lenz responded with changes in its operations, and Ecology determined those actions “appear to be sufficient to address the issues,” according to a July 2015 agency letter.

In February 2019 , Lenz applied to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency for a modification of its existing air permit and to the Snohomish Health District for a modification of its solid waste handling permit. Both agencies approved the previous expansion.

Lenz will be required to have no stormwater discharges from the composting area of the property and no discharges to groundwater or surface water. Specific requirements for the leachate collection system will be something the Snohomish Health District deals with when it considers the company’s request for a solid waste permit.

The health district has not set a schedule for its permit review.

Under the company’s proposal to the clean air agency, Lenz would add a second shift of workers to allow longer hours of processing onsite, from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Yard trimmings and food residuals would make up 75% of the raw materials composted, with land-clearing and agricultural debris making up the rest.

The expansion “will not generate any additional vehicular trips per day,” according to the proposal.

Lenz says it will replace its smaller “packer-trucks,” which carry only a few tons of material, with trucks capable of delivering up to 30 tons. There will be a maximum of 77 truck trips a day — that’s the total of those bringing in feedstock plus those leaving with compost deliveries.

Residents have privately expressed concern about the potential for stormwater runoff and doubt that the company can double its operation without also increasing truck traffic in and out of the site.

Another subject for regulators is whether Lenz is currently processing more than its allowed 75,000 tons a year.

Cedar Grove Composting, in a March 25 letter to Van Slyke and Aran Enger of the health district, contended Lenz may have exceeded tonnage limits and under-reported to the Department of Ecology the volumes of solid waste it collected. The letter includes tables showing Lenz may have taken in 106,295 tons in 2020 and 89,088 in 2019.

The letter cites public records as the source of the numbers. It is signed by the firm’s general counsel, Jay Blazey.

“We are treating it as a comment on the permit,” Van Slyke said. “We’re also evaluating it to see if it has other implications in terms of compliance with our requirements.”

Heather Thomas, a spokeswoman for the health district, said in an email that records provided by the company show “Lenz accepted a little less than 75K tons of waste (70,835 tons of yard debris and 4,059 tons of manure). We are in the process of verifying the tonnage reported by the other municipalities listed in the letter from Cedar Grove.”

Wheeler, the Lenz program director, declined to comment on this allegation.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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