Spokane may be getting out of the composting business.
Faced with angry neighbors and a recent air pollution violation, elected officials are having second thoughts about the Colbert composting plant.
The board that oversees the citycounty garbage disposal system is reviewing possible long-term solutions to the persistent stench that has plagued the facility since it was opened in 1993.
“It’s growing increasingly clear that this thing is unacceptable. But we have contracts and we are waiting for a recommendation on what to do,” said Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty.
The 43-acre, $2 million plant is a public-private enterprise between the city and O.M. Scott & Sons of Ohio.
The options discussed Monday could be expensive - potentially doubling Spokane’s investment in diverting yard waste from the garbage burner. They include:
Buying 13 homes and one vacant lot near the plant, where the smell is the strongest, at a cost of about $2.7 million.
Moving the plant to a more rural location in Spokane County. Cost: $2 million to $3 million.
Making major site improvements, from $250,000 for new fans to a $5 million building to contain the stench and treat the air.
Hauling yard debris to the Rabanco Regional Landfill in Klickitat County, where Spokane’s incinerator ash is buried. Additional cost: $156,000 to $234,000 a year.
Turning the plant into a facility that grinds yard debris but doesn’t compost it, and delivering the material to farmers to compost themselves.
In addition, a Washington Department of Ecology official said Spokane may have to repay the state part of $772,000 in grants used to build the facility.
“We’ve told the city that it will probably cost them,” said Ecology grants officer Mike Drumright.
Board members met behind closed doors to discuss the legal implications of voiding the O.M. Scott contract.
“They’re not operating the facility in compliance with state law. We need to know, do they want to walk away easy, or fight us?” said Spokane County Commissioner Steve Hasson, acting chairman of the city-county Liaison Board, which oversees garbage disposal.
“Today’s board agreed, our goal is to get out of this business. But we need to explore how,” Hasson said.
Hasson is also a board member of the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority, which last week issued a notice of violation to the plant for foul odors the night of May 30.
The air quality cops acted after a rash of complaints about the stench over Memorial Day weekend.
The air pollution board “is very concerned and will be a lot more aggressive in the future. We shouldn’t be comfortable about this operation,” Hasson told solid waste project director Phil Williams.
Fines under the Clean Air Act could run as high as $10,000 a day, Hasson said.
City councilman Chris Anderson said he’s been getting calls about the stench as late as midnight, and has driven to the area to sniff for himself.
“If I were living in that neighborhood, I wouldn’t be calling my elected official - I’d be knocking on their front door,” Anderson said.
O.M. Scott officials weren’t at the meeting, and didn’t return telephone calls Monday.
Williams said O.M. Scott is “trying very hard” to solve the odor problem.
But Williams said his personal preference would be to simply grind yard waste at the site for delivery to farmers. The farmers then would compost the material for use as fertilizer.
San Jose, Calif., and Kittitas County are experimenting with this agricultural application, Williams said.
When yard waste can’t be taken out of Spokane’s garbage, the garbage incinerator is quickly overwhelmed.
The incinerator ran at 120 percent of capacity - burning 7,125 tons - when city officials suspended delivery of yard waste to Colbert last week due to an equipment breakdown.
“That was our biggest week ever, and it was due to not diverting yard waste,” said Steve Wotruba, Wheelabrator Spokane Inc. plant manager.
The Spokane City Council will decide what to do about the Colbert plant on June 19.
“I think the council will move quickly. All the members are aware there’s a problem, and we’ve given it the best shot possible to see if it could function at Colbert,” Geraghty said.
As soon as the plant opened, neighbors along Elk-Chattaroy Road began to complain. The odor complaints peaked last summer, and soared again last week.
“It’s been stinking out here routinely,” said John Dale, a Boeing test pilot who lives in nearby North Glen Estates.
“When government comes in and does this, it makes people furious,” Dale said. “It’s completely against the law.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CHOICES Possible solutions to air pollution at the Colbert composting plant include: Purchasing nearby homes for $2.7 million. Moving the plant to a more rural Spokane County location. Making site improvements ranging from $250,000 to $5 million. Hauling yard debris to a regional landfill in Klickitat County. Delivering yard debris to farmers before it is composted.
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