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Neighbors File $2 Million Suit Over Compost Odors

Thu., Feb. 13, 1997

The Colbert compost plant “emits foul, offensive, noxious and otherwise unreasonable odors” that harm the property values and lifestyles of nearby residents, says a claim filed against the city and county of Spokane.

The claim filed late last month asks taxpayers for at least $2 million for property damages and emotional distress.

It also asks that the plant be shut down.

The 21 married couples and one man who filed the claim “want the offensive odor to go away and to have their property values returned to what they were before the operation began,” said their attorney, Michael Hines.

“From their perspective, they’ve been stonewalled.”

Milt Rowland, the city attorney handling the claim, said officials have spent countless hours researching complaints about the plant. The problem is, “odors are subjective,” he said.

The city has a contract with O.M. Scott of Ohio to “produce compost with a rich, earthy smell,” Rowland said. “If it smells worse than that, then we have a contract problem with O.M. Scott. But we don’t think O.M. Scott has violated its contract.”

Claude Cox, the county’s safety risk manager, said he already sent Hines a letter denying the claim. While the county and city share responsibility for the regional solid waste system, the city is the lead agency.

“Any suit as a result of the management is solely the city’s,” Cox said.

Many neighbors of the plant located east of U.S. Highway 2 along Elk-Chattaroy Road began complaining about its smell within months of its opening in fall 1993.

Those most bothered by the compost odors live west of the plant in a valley. At night, hot air pushes on the cool air, forcing any smells down on the neighborhood, they complain.

O.M. Scott has tried a variety of ways to decrease odor complaints, including a misting system meant to neutralize odors.

State law requires anyone who thinks that city or county actions have caused them financial or personal harm to file a claim with officials before taking the issue to court.

Claimants must wait at least 60 days after the claim is filed before taking it to court. That leaves time for the city or county to consider settling the dispute.

“We certainly deny (the claim),” Rowland said. “But they have a right to have a court decide the question.”

, DataTimes

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