Watching their waste

Lincoln County site will become major player in composting industry

FISHTRAP — A yellow construction crane with a snapping American flag marks what could become a $25 million industrial park otherwise out of sight at the Interstate 90 exit here.

Below the crane are 4 1/2 acres of asphalt divided by two sets of long, double concrete walls, and bounded north and south by pits pummeled out of the underlying basalt. There’s a drafty construction trailer and a recycled metal office building overdue for some sprucing up.

Not much to look at, but backers say that within a year the Barr Regional Bio-Industrial Park could be ingesting 75,000 tons of municipal, commercial and farm waste. The material will be converted into fertilizer, enough electricity to supply 1,000 homes, and substitutes for some of the chemical industry’s petroleum-based raw material. Nothing will be wasted.

And, with 70 or more employees, it will be Lincoln County’s largest employer.

The federal and Washington state governments have committed $8 million in loans and grants to the project; the remaining investment will be private.

The Odessa Public Development Authority owns the property, which was named for former owner and state Sen. Scott Barr.

Barr-Tech LLC, one of the park’s two major tenants, has a 20-year, lease-to-own contract with the public development authority. The other major tenant will be Blue Marble Energy Corp. of Seattle, which plans to make the site its headquarters and operations center.

Facility Manager Larry Condon said he expects the first load of waste to be tipped onto the asphalt expanse in mid-January. Barr-Tech is aggressively bidding for Spokane yard and food waste, as well as the city sewage treatment plant’s bio-solids, he said.

The bids are due Monday. If successful, Condon said, hauling the material to Fishtrap would short-circuit the 240-mile round trip trucks now take to a composting facility at Royal City in the Columbia Basin.

Even without the city waste, however, there is more than enough waste available from grocery stores and other commercial and farm operations within a 100-mile radius of Fishtrap to feed the company’s compost piles and anaerobic digester, Condon said.

The processing works something like this:

The waste is shredded, then sorted for composting or digesting. Bio-solids are composted.

The material to be composted is piled atop an inflated tube and against one of the long “push” walls. The tube is deflated and withdrawn, leaving a “mouse hole” for drainage and air flow.

The piles are then covered and lanced with sensors connected to a computer that will regulate the application of air and water. Moisture that leaches out will flow from the mouse holes to one of two retaining ponds. Greenhouse gases will be sucked off the top and filtered in other piles by bacteria that would not survive in the hot compost.

Condon said Barr-Tech hopes to find another company that would build greenhouses able to use that heat.

Other waste that contains high-energy materials such as fats, food, even greasy pizza boxes, will go into the digester, which contains a “soup” laden with bacteria. As they consume the waste, the bacteria produce methane that will be burned in two one-megawatt generators, with a third to be added later. One megawatt can meet the electricity needs of 500 homes.

Inland Power & Light Co. has already agreed to purchase the power.

Solids extracted from the digester are added to the compost piles.

Blue Marble has another use for the digester.

Chief Operating Officer Devin Elliot said the Seattle company can process some of the mixture into anhydrous ammonia and chemicals used in cosmetics, paints and plastics.

Elliot said Blue Marble, although it has the word “Energy” in its name, will focus on making high-value organic compounds because they are more profitable than bio-fuels.

He said the company, which tested its process at a Seattle demonstration plant, will begin constructing its commercial plant in the spring, with the goal of becoming fully operational by mid-2011. The size depends in part on the success of efforts to raise $8 million to $10 million, he said.

Elliot said almost 40 people will be employed when the plant reaches full production, with the potential to double that number in another five years. Many of those jobs will be well-paying engineering and chemist jobs occupied by employees commuting from Spokane, he said.

Condon said Barr-Tech will earn revenue from municipalities and businesses that sell the company their waste, from the generators, and from the compost. The site could produce as much as 70,000 cubic yards per year of compost, he said, adding “We’ve pre-sold every yard.”

Barr-Tech is co-owned by Ted Condon, Larry’s brother, and Jack Gillingham, who are also partners in Northwest Industrial Management, which transports waste and manages transfer stations in the area.

Larry said the brothers and Gillingham set out in 2007 to establish a composting facility that would eliminate the long hauls of waste to Royal City, but not repeat the mistakes of a decade ago at Colbert, where the smell offended homeowners, and contamination tainted their wells.

As they looked at composting operations along the Interstate 5 corridor, he said, Gillingham became increasingly enthusiastic about the potential for a state-of-the-art facility in Eastern Washington.

When the Odessa PDA showed them the Fishtrap property, he said, “We all knew this was the location.”

Condon said permitting and financing progressed rapidly with the help of the Odessa PDA and Pam Kelley, then-executive director of the Lincoln County Economic Development Council. Many area public and private officials also wrote letters of support for the project.

“We knew that this was going to be a huge undertaking,” Kelley said, because of the project’s unique features, and all the public and private entities involved. Although not the closest Lincoln County community to Fishtrap, the Odessa PDA was brought in because of its success with other projects, she said.

PDA President Steve Powell said the PDA was willing to take on more risk because of the potential benefits to the county, even if Sprague was the community most likely to directly benefit. Everyone in Odessa who wants a job is working, he said.

“We went out and got project partners who could get us to the goal line,” Condon said.

Kelley, now an independent consultant working for Barr-Tech, said the company hopes to attract other partners that can make use of the facility’s infrastructure, which will include a new electricity transmission line. The park’s 40 acres could be just the start, she said.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in a really short period of time,” Powell said.

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