The Lenz composting facility borders. (Google Earth)

The Lenz composting facility borders. (Google Earth)

Stanwood composter questioned on whether tonnage went over the cap

Lenz Enterprises was accused by a competitor, Cedar Grove, of accepting 30,000 tons more than allowed last year.

STANWOOD — Local health authorities are investigating whether a Stanwood composting firm accepted thousands more tons of material last year than legally allowed.

The Snohomish Health District is combing records of Lenz Enterprises to determine if it took in roughly 30,000 tons of yard trimmings and food scraps above a cap set in its operating permit.

This is the health district’s second such review this year. Both have come in response to complaints from another composting firm, Cedar Grove, that contain an assemblage of data purporting to show Lenz under-reported tonnage figures in each of the past two years.

The district conducted its first review in April and found Lenz in compliance. Additional information Cedar Grove recently sent to the district “appears to conflict with annual reports submitted by Lenz Composting,” health district spokeswoman Heather Thomas wrote in an email Thursday.

“The Health District will continue to review relevant records,” she said, adding it is “too early” to say what could be the next steps.

And now the state Department of Ecology is pushing for clarity. Among the records under review are annual reports that Lenz files with the state, listing amounts of material received for processing. The agency wants to be sure the content of those filings is accurate.

“Ecology is not in possession of irrefutable evidence of any exceedance, but we take allegations of misreporting seriously,” wrote Dawn Marie Maurer, a solid waste facilities specialist, in a Dec. 3 email to health district officials. “We strongly recommend that Snohomish Health District look into this matter and take corrective actions should you acquire evidence of a permit violation. Please let us know if we can assist you in any way.”

A company executive denied any wrongdoing.

“Lenz Enterprises is in compliance with all of its permits,” company vice president Jason Lenz said in an email. “Lenz will be cooperating, as it always has, with the Snohomish Health District, specifically on this subject matter.”

He declined a request for documents refuting numbers Cedar Grove submitted with its complaints.

“While I appreciate your questions, we cannot provide additional information,” he wrote.

Lenz Enterprises’ permit from the Snohomish Health District allows it to accept 75,000 tons of material for composting, known as feed stock, each year at the facility on Highway 532. The health district would not furnish a copy of the permit without a formal public records request.

In 2020, the facility accepted 74,894 tons, according to filings with the Department of Ecology. In 2019, the figure was 74,001 tons.

Cedar Grove officials publicly questioned those numbers in a March 25 letter to the health district and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which has regulatory authority on composting operations.

Based on a review of public reports from cities and counties with Lenz identified as the processor, “it appears that Lenz has failed to comply with the annual tonnage limit imposed by its permits,” wrote Jay Blazey, the company’s general counsel.

He contended Lenz exceeded its permit by 14,000 tons in 2019 and more than 30,000 tons in 2020.

The health district checked it out. Employees visited the facility April 12.

“Based on observations and record review, it was determined that the facility is in compliance,” Thomas wrote in an email to The Daily Herald.

At that time, Cedar Grove submitted more information for review and nothing came of it.

Meanwhile, the clean air agency has been silent. That’s because Lenz is pursuing a permit from the agency to expand the facility to handle twice as much material each year. Regulators decided in March to treat Cedar Grove’s letter as a comment on the proposed expansion and thus won’t respond to it until the process is finished.

Since spring, Cedar Grove officials have continued to press county, regional and state officials to dig deeper into the figures reported by Lenz. Data garnered in recent days is fueling a second review of the records.

The thrust of Cedar Grove’s argument is that if one adds up tonnage reportedly delivered to the Lenz facility under different contracts, it will exceed 75,000. Total amounts from the three largest sources alone — Snohomish County, the city of Seattle and the Eastmont Transfer Station in King County — exceed the cap, the company contends.

Records collected by The Herald show that in 2020 the city of Seattle shipped 70,748 tons of organic waste to Lenz and Snohomish County sent 7,917 tons of yard debris. Waste Management reported trucking 30,241 tons of yard trimmings from its Eastmont Transfer Station. Several cities in King County send their feed stock to the transfer station.

That totals 108,906 tons, though it may be a little less because Seattle sends some material to the transfer station that could be a part of its deliveries to Lenz. In 2019, Seattle sent 57,551 tons, Snohomish County 13,227 and the transfer station accounted for 25,251. That adds up to 96,029 tons.

In the letter, Blazey expresses frustration with the clean air agency’s lack of action on Lenz while it has “aggressively sought” to enforce a tonnage limit for Cedar Grove’s Maple Valley facility — even though the permit for that operation does not set a tonnage limit.

The agency’s “lack of similar enforcement action against Lenz despite what appears to be clear evidence that it is violating an express condition of its air permit raises questions about PSCAA’s (Puget Sound Clean Air Agency) selective enforcement of its permits for commercial composters,” Blazey wrote.

Blazey declined to discuss the latest developments. Concerns cited in the March letter remain, he said.

Cedar Grove argued in the letter that action on the expansion should not occur until it’s known if Lenz is complying with its current permit.

“Until this issue is resolved, we respectfully submit that it would be irresponsible to approve a permit expansion of the magnitude requested by Lenz,” Blazey wrote. “If Lenz refuses to comply with the express limit of 75,000 tons in its existing permits, how can the public trust that Lenz will comply with the significantly larger 150,000 ton limit it is requesting?”

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

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