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Officials try to sniff out source of odor

MARYSVILLE The wind carries it to different spots and different people describe it in different ways.

But for now, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency alleges the source of an odor that has been reaching the city is the Cedar Grove Composting Plant on Smith Island in Everett.

A supervising inspector for the clean air authority, Mario Pedroza issued the company a written warning regarding the smell July 9. He said only the lack of a specific complainant prevented him from issuing a full-blown citation against the company.

Literally following his nose, Pedroza said he was able to trace the smell reaching Marysville to the Smith Island plant on three occasions, including July 9.

For the future, Pedroza said he and other clean air officials will meet with city leaders July 16. He also will continue to visit the Everett plant, a composting operation that has been in business on Smith Island since 2004.

"We're working with the agency to determine what the problem is," Cedar Grove Vice-President Jerry Bartlett said, while never saying his company's facility is the source of the odor.

Bartlett in fact argued there are several other possible sources for the smell, including neighboring businesses and wastewater treatment plants in Marysville and Everett. He said in the years the Smith Island facility has been operating, there has been only one previous, unverified complaint against the plant.

Bartlett described Cedar Grove products as well known in the immediate area, with composting and other materials available at several major retail outlets.

According to Bartlett, the Everett facility accepts yard and food wastes that are converted into compost in a process that takes a total of about 120 days and includes mixing and grinding the waste materials. According to Pedroza, the grinding operation might be the source of the problem.

On the occasions he alleges tracing the smell to the Cedar Grove plant, he claims the company grinder was in operation.

Pedroza said complaints reaching the clean air agency from Marysville "just blossomed" starting about a month ago. In a letter to the clean air group asking for an investigation, Mayor Dennis Kendall said Marysville City Hall also began receiving complaints regarding a mysterious stench in early June.

As of July 9, Kendall said the city had gotten upwards of about 100 calls relating to an unidentified smell.

Kendall later added he has experienced the smell himself on several occasions, perhaps most notably during a meeting of the local Rotary held at Jennings Park on July 9. According to both Kendall and Pedroza, the smell often seems to center around the park, with Kendall speculating Allen Creek might act as a natural, open pathway by which the smell can easily travel.

Pedroza said the first day he allegedly traced the smell to Cedar Grove was June 30. He said he and another inspector spent the better part of the day in the Marysville area looking for the smell and its source. He agreed with Cedar Grove's Bartlett that there are numerous possible sources of the smell, including the Marysville water treatment plant.

But Pedroza also said he visited the local plant June 30. He added that day's warm weather seemed to have led to a smell coming from the facility's retention ponds. Pedroza also said he noticed a different odor in the general area and again alleged he followed it back to Smith Island and Cedar Grove.

On July 9, the day he issued the company a written warning, Pedroza said he once again drove around the Marysville area and once again claimed he followed a noticeable smell back to Cedar Grove. Pedroza said any time he issues a formal citation against a company he needs, among other things, a signed complaint from a member of the community. While he said he searched out several persons who had contacted the clean air group regarding the smell, none were available the day he issued the formal warning.

According to Pedroza, the reek, however unpleasant, presents no specific health hazard.

"People have said they have gagged," he said. "Is it something that's causing cancer? No, it's not."

While Pedroza and city officials said they would continue to work on the problem, Pedroza warned there may be no quick fix. He said solving the alleged problem at Cedar Grove could involve any number of steps, including putting new infrastructure in place. The company also has a legal right to challenge any finding against it.

"We will try to get something done to eliminate the problem," Kendall said.

This is not the first time the clean air authority has investigated Cedar Grove. Pedroza confirmed the agency had conducted an investigation into a Cedar Grove operation in Maple Valley near Tacoma. He said that investigation resulted in "significant" monetary fines against the firm, but exact figures were not readily available. According to Pedroza, the agency can level fines reaching a maximum of $15,000 a day.

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