Cedar Grove Compost as seen from north Everett looking toward Marysville, back in 2012. (Mark Mulligan / Herald file)

Cedar Grove Compost as seen from north Everett looking toward Marysville, back in 2012. (Mark Mulligan / Herald file)

Settlement proposed in bad-smell class action lawsuit

A judge still must approve an agreement between Cedar Grove Composting and Marysville residents.

MARYSVILLE — An Everett composting company has agreed to pay more than $785,000 to settle a class action lawsuit alleging it was responsible for bad smells.

Cedar Grove Composting also would spend $1.45 million to reduce the potential for malodorous emissions.

A judge still has to decide whether to approve the settlement.

Letters were sent in recent weeks to people who might be eligible for a portion of the settlement, including those who’ve lived within two miles of the compost operation at 3620 36th Place on Everett’s Smith Island.

For years, neighbors frequently complained about the smell of composting operations. They eventually took their case to court.

Cedar Grove won a lawsuit in 2017 in a case brought by a Marysville man complaining about the odors.

In agreeing to the settlement in the other case, Cedar Grove denied wrongdoing. It said in court papers that it wanted to end the litigation “to avoid the cost, expense, inconvenience, uncertainty, distraction, time, and effort.”

A mediator was used to iron out the agreement.

Compostable material is added to the digester at Cedar Grove Compost in 2008. (Mark Mulligan / Herald file)

Compostable material is added to the digester at Cedar Grove Compost in 2008. (Mark Mulligan / Herald file)

“We have denied these allegations and prevailed in the only case that’s gone to trial, but we felt this was the best way to bring resolution to this matter and have the ability to refocus our efforts 100 percent back to providing this valuable service for the community,” said Karen Dawson, a company spokeswoman. “The settlement funds will be distributed to everyone who qualifies and files the proper paperwork.”

She said improvements included in the settlement are significant.

Cedar Grove has invested millions of dollars over the years in odor-control technology, including a synthetic cover to contain portions of the operation linked to some of the smells. In 2010, it installed electronic monitors, dubbed “e-noses,” to track odors from its composting operations.

“We are happy to report that odor complaints are down to record lows,” Dawson said. “We received just two odor complaints this summer.”

Local residents were represented by the Michigan-based Liddle & Dubin law firm. In a letter to potential clients, attorneys for the plaintiffs said the settlement is in the best interests of the clients and avoids the cost and risk of trial.

Part of the legal challenge was being able to determine precisely the sources of some smells, especially in an area that also includes one of Pacific Topsoils’ operations, two wastewater treatment plants, and the Snohomish River estuary.

In past years, the company has been cited and fined by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency for violations.

The settlement includes language of a “cooling off period,” which means members of the class action lawsuit won’t file any lawsuits for more than three years.

Exactly how much individuals might collect from the $787,500 settlement is hard to say. The payment will be placed in a trust fund. Attorney fees account for $330,000, and there also was $53,761 in out-of-pocket expenses.

Potential clients to the settlement can send questions to info@ldclassaction.com.

A similar settlement in a class action lawsuit has been reached involving the Cedar Grove composting business in Maple Valley and residents in that King County community. That case would set up a settlement fund of $1.4 million and require $3.4 million in improvements to that site, according to court papers.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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