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Residents share complaints about compost facility with county

By Monique Massiah, Strathmore Standard

County residents come out in force to complain about  stench from compost facility.

County residents come out in force to complain about stench from compost facility.

A stench that is described as “rotting vomit in the air” has become so unbearable to smell that individuals need to leave the area for relief has residents turning to Wheatland County for an answer.

 

Nearly 80 people showed up to the meeting and after hearing from landowners, business owners, local workers, realtors, and staff from Alberta Environment and Bio-Can (Bio-Cycle), Wheatland County council voted in favour of contracting Calgary Region Airshed Zone for a cost of $4,675 to complete one month of monitoring of the Bio-Can (Bio-Cycle) Solutions Ltd. compost facility with a mobile air monitoring lab.

The testing will occur in June or July 2017. A report will be generated after testing is complete including a 24-hour volatile organic compounds sample.

Bio-Cycle Solutions Ltd’s composting facility is located about four miles north east of Strathmore and has been in operation since 1997 at SW 7-25-24-4. Bio-Cycle has operated the facility since 2012.

During the meeting Wheatland County staff stated that the facility was operating with a Class 2 Compost Permit, but staff from Bio-Cycle at the meeting confirmed they were a Class 1 facility.

In Alberta, Class 1 facilities are defined as a facility that can accept any kind of organic waste that is not hazardous. That waste could include curbside compost collection, food waste, biosolids, and agri-food processing waste.

Many landowners near the facility have noted the smell for several years. After staff from the county received complaints about the smell in early 2016 they contacted Alberta Environment and Parks to ask about air quality testing.

One ratepayer and nearby neighbour of the site Betty Lou Mercer gave council and those assembled a detailed description of the constant smell, collection of thousands of flies, the sound of trucks driving up and down local roads and showed pictures of a 60-foot mountain of what appears to be drywall that borders her fence line.

“We had a terrible problem with flies,” she said. “Every time somebody came in, the flies would be coming in.”

She showed council what looked like grocery bag-size fly traps filled with dead flies collected in only three hours last summer.

A new shed on the property is covered with fly feces and blowing plastic and garbage collects in bushes and the lawn around the home.

She spoke of lots of bird shrieking in the air and in the fields.

“It’s louder than being on the docks in Vancouver,” she said.

“It comes right up to the fence line and over underneath.”

“To me it looks like trash. it’s unsightly,” she said. She also noted that the plastic and garbage gets in under their fence line of her property when it rains and showed the Texas Gate filled with trash.

“I didn’t realize the quantity of it,” Mercer said. “Why would we want something like that in Alberta or in Canada?”

Another ratepayer Opal Seifert said,

“You go out the door take a deep breath and step back in, it gags you.”

“This started 20 years ago this fall and it started under the guise of a farm operation,” she said.

Seifert said that all those years ago she and other neighbours weren’t notified to a change in the operation of the facility.

“All at once there’s commercial equipment in, digging a pit and lining it with blue clay and ‘hey what’s going on?’” she said.

“There’s approximately 20 farms within a mile’s radius and the smell hits them first depending where the wind is, now it’s going to Rockyford and it’s going to Strathmore,” she said.

“What about our ground water? We don’t even drink our ground water anymore, unless we boil it,” she said.

“Some strange things are happening,” said Seifert.

“Something is wrong. It’s not just people that this is affecting,” she said.

Seifert questioned what kind of contamination could be happening, pointing to a small pond of frogs on their property that had none last year. She’s also noticed a lack of the bees that used to fill their yard.

She said that the seagulls are raiding other bird nests in the area.

She asked the council if any of the members had actually gone to see the facility themselves.

“If you are going to represent this county, you have to go and have a look at what other people here are faced with,” she said.

Many of the people at the meeting spoke of the potential health risks associated with humans living in such close proximity to the facility.

“I think the problem with a lot of this is, they allowed much more of this material than they can actually process,” said John Calvin.

“I think this is where that real rank smell comes from when they try to start moving that rotting material to try to get it into a compost.”

When the idea was raised that the smell could be emanating from local feedlots was raised, Councillor Rex Harwood said, “we don’t get this kind of attendance at a public meeting because of a feedlot. We’ve had feedlots in this area forever. We all know that their manure is managed. We know there is a smell and I think everyone here knows the difference between a feedlot and this Bio-Cycle facility.”

Attendees of the meeting spoke of the loss of value of their properties because of the smell.

Realtor Debby Murray with CIR Real Estate in Strathmore was also at the meeting. She explained that it’s becoming difficult to sell properties in the area.

She explained that clients drive up along properties to the east of the Bio-Can facility and ask about all of the acreages for sale.

“What is that smell?” Is the response of some of her clients.

She noted that as a realtor she must disclose everything that she knows about a potential property.

“It is devaluing the property... People are having trouble selling their properties.”

She asked council for a solution to the problem so that she can in the future relay that information to her clients.

Colin Huxted of H & H Huxted Enterprises was asked to attend the meeting on behalf of his neighbours. He spoke about how composting is not really supposed to smell bad. He said that compost is supposed to give off a rich soil smell.

When finished, compost resembles a dark and rich soil that can be used in gardens.

According to the county report, Alberta Environment and Parks said that air testers usually monitor industrial sites, but was unsure if air testing machines would be able to detect anything from the compost facility because odour is difficult to measure.

The county has been logging complaints about the facility since January 2015.

Mark Grenert of Bio-Can was also at the meeting to dispel some of the comments that were made about the practices of the business, during the meeting.

“Over 50 per cent of our workforce are Wheatland County or Strathmore,” he said.

“There is investment back into the community,” he said, noting that many of the transportation companies they use are local, and they do look for local workers at job fairs.

He said that the Green Cart program is going to be contained within Calgary.

“We have multiple items that come into that facility,” he said.

“We see Alberta Environment on a regular basis,” he said. “They regularly come to our facility.”

“We are not unfair with the regulator, they are highly involved in our operations.”

Those at the meeting also heard from Alberta Environment’s James Jorgensen.

He noted that he first heard about the issue in January 2016.

He explained that a thaw at the time in Bio-Can’s windrows caused a smell.

“We forced their hand to put in mechanical aeration, up until that point they were using windrows, the windrows were too big, there was too much material on site to make good compost from a regulatory standpoint,” he said.

He said the last odour complaint he received was in October 2016.

He explained that when he no longer received complaints from the community, he assumed that the issue had been resolved.

One bystander said that they haven’t received anymore complaints because people are tired and have given up.

Jorgensen told council that they do have the ability to control the issue and that it is not only the responsibility of Alberta Environment.

“Your bylaws still apply,” he said.

Composting facilities are categorized as either Class I facilities or Class II facilities. The majority of composting facilities in Alberta are Class II facilities, which are those which accept only manures and vegetative matter (leaf and yard waste, brush, and wood waste). Many of these are integrated with other municipal waste management facilities such as landfills and waste transfer stations.

Class I facilities may accept any type of organics waste that is not hazardous waste. This may include source separated organics (from curbside collection), food waste, biosolids, and agri-food processing waste.

In total there are 60 composting facilities in Alberta. Most of these are Class II facilities processing leaf and yard waste. There are 13 Class I composting facilities in Alberta, two of which process greater than 20,000 tonnes of organic residuals per year.

The amount of feedstock accepted each year to a composting facility must not at any time exceed the registered design capacity of the facility.

People who are interested in making a complaint with Albertan Environment are encouraged to call 1-800-222-6541. The land location is SW-SEC7-T24-R25-W4. It is also recommended that individuals get a reference number so that the complaint can be tracked.