Cedar Grove loses appeal of odor violations at Everett facility

MARYSVILLE — A recent ruling by the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board could help Marysville residents who are hoping to breathe a little easier.

The Hearings Board upheld $119,000 in fines for 17 odor violation notices during 2009 and 2010 at Cedar Grove Composting facilities in Everett and Maple Valley, denying the company's appeal.

The Board reduced the fines imposed on Cedar Grove by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency from $169,000 to $119,000, to give the company partial credit for the $6.5 million that its representatives estimate it's spent on odor control technology in recent years.

Cedar Grove spokesperson Laird Harris limited the company's official response to describing it as "pleased" with these fine reductions, at the same time that he acknowledged that Cedar Grove would appeal again, due to its disagreements with other aspects of the ruling.

"The Board's decision leaves open the issue of improving the overall performance of odor control programs in the areas where Cedar Grove operates," Harris said. "The company plans to continue its work with PSCAA and other agencies to establish an odor monitoring program that is science-based, trusted by all parties and provides a comprehensive approach that includes and differentiates between odor sources."

Harris noted that only two of the 17 fines were from alleged violations at the Everett facility, most of which took place in 2009.

Marysville resident Mike Davis, co-founder of "Citizens for a Smell Free Snohomish County," is not surprised that Cedar Grove plans to appeal, but he believes this ruling gives his group "another weapon to use" in its ongoing campaign to hold Cedar Grove accountable for the noxious odors that many Marysville and Everett residents have identified as coming from the company's Everett facility.

"We're tired of Cedar Grove denying any responsibility and blaming everybody else while people all around the region can't even enjoy their own yards because of the huge stench," Davis said. "We hope Cedar Grove pays the fines and takes care of its impacts rather than continuing to blame others. Unfortunately, given the company's history of denying its responsibilities with litigation and lawsuits, we fear they will file another appeal and continue spending huge sums on legal fees rather than fixing the problem."

Although Harris touted a number of changes that Cedar Grove has made at its Everett facility, including "an aggressive monitoring program" within the past year to improve odor management, Davis cited the Board's conclusions about what it deemed "the large number" of odor complaints associated with the company's Everett and Maple Valley composting facilities.

"The odors emanating from the facilities have interfered with the reasonable enjoyment of life and property of a large number of surrounding residents," the three-member Board wrote at the end of its 66-page ruling on July 14. "In that regard, the violations are serious, and have been ongoing and repetitive. Cedar Grove's responsiveness to the odor problem has been somewhat mixed. Cedar Grove has at some points in time denied responsibility for the odors, directed responsibility towards other businesses and been non-responsive to the NOVs issued by PSCAA."

The Board's ruling likewise found that the PSCAA's regulatory system is valid, its inspectors are adequately trained and its methods and procedures are not "arbitrary and capricious," as was charged by Cedar Grove.

While Cedar Grove plans to appeal, Davis aims to spread awareness about this ruling, which he sees as contradicting the findings of Environmental Reporting, Monitoring and Solutions of Everett, a Cedar Grove consultant which concluded last year that the company's Everett facility accounts for less than 1 percent of the odors reported by its neighbors.

"We find it to be, at minimum, a perceived conflict of interest for one of the Everett Port Commissioners to be involved with a company that is highly controversial," Davis said, pointing out that Everett Port Commissioner Mark Wolken owns and manages ERMAS. "We fear that Cedar Grove will make Everett and surrounding areas the armpit of Snohomish County, lowering property values and the ability to enjoy our yards and homes, and jeopardizing the region's future economic development."

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