Joel Connelley, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, on compost facility in Kittitas County
Strategy for Seattle’s smelly waste: It’s Kittitas County’s problem
A Seattle City Council committee on Tuesday gave thumbs-up to a proposed agreement in which the city would ship as much as 100,000 tons of aromatic composting waste a year to a treatment plant over the mountains and nearly 100 miles away in Kittitas County.
The processing facility would, however, be located on a slope above the Yakima River, not far from where last summer’s 23,000 acre Taylor Bridge fire jumped the river, and just below the popular, hugely scenic Elk Heights rest stop on Interstate 90.
“There is no way this is not going to be an enormous scenic impact,” Carl Nelson, a water commissioner from Kittitas County, told the Council’s committee on parks and utilities.
Opponents raised questions about processing all kinds of wastes in an extreme fire danger area, potential bad smells, noise pollution, and the presence of an industrial facility in a rural environment.
Seattle Council members responded with sanctimonious statements about the environment, but said in effect: Let Kittitas County worry about it.
“Why are we hearing so many of these issues now that we did not hear previously?” wondered committee chair, Councilwoman Jean Godden. Godden appeared impatient with, and disinterested in, critical testimony heard Tuesday, as well as at a full Council meeting on Monday.
The agreement — it goes before the full City Council on Monday — is with a company called PacificClean Environmental, half-owned by Cedar Grove Compost, which currently treats Seattle’s compost in Maple Valley. It is being pushed by Seattle Public Utilities, which is anxious to rid itself from odor complaints and air quality violations at the Maple Valley facility.
The composting plant would be just below the Elk Heights rest stop on I-90, 93 miles east of Seattle between Cle Elum and Ellensburg.
The large Elk Heights rest stop gives those picknicking and stretching legs a sweeping view of the Wenatchee Mountains with 9,415-foot Mt. Stuart as its centerpiece. The project is along the Mountains to Sound Greenway. The John Wayne Pioneer Trail passes just below the proposed treatment plant. The 2012 Taylor Bridge fire “jumped” the Yakima River just below the trail, and destroyed 13 homes.
“PacifiClean is committed to building a state-of-the-art facility . . . It will be the finest facility in the area and potentially the entire West Coast,” Larry Condon, a managing member of the company told Seattle Council members. The composting solid waste, he added, would be turned into “a product for the agricultural market.”
Kittitas County has flagged the composting project, telling PacifiClean in a Feb. 22nd letter, “A number of environmental issues need further evaluation and will require a substantial amount of staff time to review such analysis.”
The county is concerned about visual impacts, and wants to know techniques “that will be used to control the odor,” adding: “You provide no existing test results which substantiate that your proposed method of odor control is functional and efficient.” The county also wants detailed information on how a fire at the disposal site would be contained.
The county is wondering why the scenic hillside location was chosen when “other sites” were considered for the composting plant? “There are over 400 acres of unused industrial land within Kittitas County, and are within areas which would not have the same environmental impacts as upon the site that was chosen,” Kittitas County planner Doc Hansen wrote to Condon.
Seattle City Council members seemed to show little interest on Tuesday. Seattle City Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw did say: “It sounds like a lot of questions need to be addressed, and our colleagues in Kittitas County have their work cut out for them.” Councilman Richard Conlin tut-tutted: “We know this kind of work involves environmental challenges.”
It is, added Godden, “their own process.” She said the committee should be kept up to date of “PacifiClean’s outreach process,” but warned that any holdup of the contract would require scheduling “a special meeting” of the Council committee.
Apparently, nobody on the Council has read a letter from Chris Martin, a Roslyn-based businessman who is in the business — he collects wastes from five King County cities — did a bid on the Seattle contract, considered partnering with PacifiClean, and studied siting a composting processing plant between Cle Elum and Ellensburg.
“PacifiClean will be a fire hazard,” Martin said in a March 13 letter to the county. “The proposed location is in a high wind and extreme fire danger zone. Taylor Bridge comes to find. Compost fires are frequent . . . In August 2009 a large fire broke out at Cedar Grove’s Maple Valley Facility. A very large pile burned for more than a week at Austin’s (Texas) Hornsby Road facility this month . . .
“We will put the Tacoma Aroma to shame . . . There are probably places in Kittitas County where such a facility could be built and operated with the right people running the facility. Elk Heights, with its proximity to I-90 and the Johy Wayne Trail and adjacent to a community of homeowners and the Yakima River, is not the place.”