Composting plant redirects after opposition

PATIENCE COLLIER, staff reporter

Residents of Elk Heights west of Ellensburg discovered last January that a composting company planned to build a facility in their neighborhood.

After seeing the company’s plans, the community decided to fight the proposal. In March, Pacific Clean withdrew from the site.

Seattle had a contract with Cedar Grove, a composting plant with facilities around the Seattle area.

The company has had two class action lawsuits filed against its plants in Maple Valley and Everett, due to quality of life issues presented by the odors of the plants.

A major concern of Kittitas Clean, the community-based group protesting the composting plant at Elk Heights, was the connection between Pacific Clean and Cedar Grove.

Glen Erickson, a volunteer with Kittitas Clean, said the owners of Cedar Grove held 50 percent of Pacific Clean’s stock.

“It’s quite clear that there was a connection,” Erickson said. “The thing of the matter is that [Cedar Grove] stays in the income flow.”

Larry Condon, general manager of the proposed plant, denied that Cedar Grove had any direct influence over Pacific Clean, despite the investment.

Condon said the investment of some Cedar Grove owners in Pacific Clean was seen as a compliment.

It is “our biggest competitor, saying you guys have basically got this right,” Condon said. “Businessmen invest in projects they believe will be very successful, not failures.”

Although he acknowledged there have been some issues with composting facilities in the past, Condon said the issues of odor, compost smolders, and other problems arise in facilities that are poorly managed.

“Any facility of any kind that’s not managed correctly, you’re going to have problems,” Condon said. “I own one, and it doesn’t have odor issues – there’s 80-plus facilities in Washington with no issues.”

The concerns of Kittitas Clean were more than just the odor.

Douglas Philbrick, one of the volunteers with Kittitas Clean, said the plant’s location near the Yakima River could have been a serious problem in the event of a heavy storm.

“The potential of this stuff breaking through the basalt here and reaching down into the water table—this is the water that we drink,” Philbrick said. “There were so many different aspects, that this was really not the right place.”

One of Philbrick’s most serious concerns he stated was the risk of fire.

“We don’t have a fire dept. here, we only have one way in and out of this community, and we have elderly and disabled people who wouldn’t be able to escape,” Philbrick said.

The composting technology uses anaerobic digestion to break down some bio-solids, which Philbrick cited as a fire hazard.

“Basically, these anaerobic digesters, they do produce methane and other gasses, and they have been known to explode,” Philbrick said. “They have to be monitored by a scientist 24/7, and if it’s not done properly, it can be a very, very dangerous device; it has killed people.”

James Rivard, the environmental health supervisor for Kittitas County, said there have been some comments about Pacific Clean’s application for the site at Elk Heights, but the company had not gotten back to them.

“The applicant, Pacific Clean, was meeting with the opposition group,” Rivard said. “I guess through the course of all of that, our questions and concerns and the opposition group, they felt like they were better off choosing another site, so they chose not to pursue that site.”

Condon confirmed Pacific Clean had withdrawn their proposal to avoid causing issues with the community.

“When we became aware that this was a big deal for them, we changed facilities,” Condon said. “We didn’t want to build a facility that was going to be a community headache, so we said we’d move.”

Philbrick said the group was proud of what they had been able to accomplish, and Pacific Clean is looking into locations farther away from the community, on the east side of Ellensburg, was a positive result.

“It turned out much better than I could’ve imagined,” Philbrick said. “The county is still going to get the tax money. We’re a large county with a low population, so generating money is still important. It’s not just, we’re going to kick them out of here and lose the tax base.”

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