“It’s persistent, it’s prevalent, and it’s unacceptable”:

Colusa residents asks supes to address odor issue coming from compost facility at Colusa Industrial Properties

A compost operation at Colusa Industrial Properties has been causing quite the stench in the southern part of Colusa, and a handful of residents appealed to the Colusa County Board of Supervisors at their meeting on March 21 to do something about it.

Four residents, including Rob Moriconi, Jeff Sutton, Fred Pilgrim and John Rogers, each beseeched the board to take action against what they said was a public nuisance, using words such as pungent and outrageous to describe the odor coming from Western Milling’s operation.

“It’s so pungent you want to gag,” said Colusa resident Jeff Sutton, who owns a pair of properties in the area affected by the smell. “It’s persistent, it’s prevalent, and it’s unacceptable. It’s affecting the marketability and value of our homes. So we do have a specific request: That this be addressed expeditiously, and not just moved as a band-aid, but addressed permanently. This type of activity out there just does not work. We need your help to fix this.”

Rogers said that as a farmer, he was responsible if any products leave his property, including odors, and that the board has laws on the books to address public nuisances.

Colusa County Director of  Development Services Greg Plucker, who disclosed that he also lives in the area affected by the smell, gave the board a brief update on complaints surrounding the odor issue during his staff report. Plucker said that his department had initiated a dialogue with Western Milling and expressed “in no uncertain terms the need to resolve the issue,” and stated that the compost facility was operating without meeting state permitting requirements – namely for odor mitigation. During his staff report on March 21, he said that there would be a follow-up meeting with representatives from Western Milling last Friday. On Tuesday, Plucker said he believed that follow-up meeting went well.

“We laid out the expectations and permit requirements, and they are in the process of weighing their options,” Plucker said on Tuesday morning, adding that he expected to hear back from the company next week. “What happens with a compost facility is that there are a series of permits… depending upon the nature of the use. That’s actually what they’re evaluating right now. A big component is an odor control plan, which they do not have right now. That will be a part of any permit moving forward.”

According to Plucker, the recent odor issue stems from Western Milling’s inability to properly manage the compost due to the wet winter. Plucker explained that an operator must be able to manipulate the compost to control moisture, temperature, and oxygen in order to have the decomposition process actually happen. When it can’t be manipulated properly, bad things can happen.

“I believe the issue is that they started the operation, the weather got away and caused a number of issues,” Plucker said. “The strong message is in order to do compost correctly and control smell, you have to be able to manipulate compost 365 days a year, no matter the weather… What folks are finding out is it can get away from you very quickly and either cause a fire, or if it goes anaerobic and becomes waterlogged, you can have very strong odors.”

Currently, much of the compost material is sitting in a swamp, which Plucker said was causing anaerobic reactions to occur that produce the smell. In order to minimize that smell, the operators of the facility would need to be able to get to it and turn it on an as-needed basis, which they are unable to do at the current site.

The solution proposed to mitigate the smell is to move the compost material one mile west from its current location at Colusa Industrial Properties.

“We had a few issues in fall and worked through with county counsel that we would move the site one mile to the west, which will hopefully mitigate any odor issues the city has. We’re working diligently to complete that as the weather allows us to,” CIP CEO Ed Hulbert said on Tuesday.

Hulbert added that the move would allow for proper composting to mitigate odors, and cause any incidental odor to be carried away from town.

“The southwest prevailing breeze would take the odor right over the city pond, right over the refuge,” Hulbert said. “That’s the design of what they’re doing… As with all my projects, I have been working cooperatively with the county, staff, and county counsel. I already have an agreement (for a solution) with the county, in writing, and it’s just taken longer than expected because it has been so wet. We’ve had 30 inches of rain – it has not been an average winter We are spending a significant amount of money, trying to keep a good tenant. I’m going to do everything I can to move it, mitigate the odor, and make it a good project.”

During last week’s meeting, Plucker said he was unsure whether moving the operation a mile to the west would truly address the odor problem.

“Their current operation does not allow for (year-round management) to happen, and I’m concerned that the proposed location is not going to be any better, and is just kind of moving the smell. We need to get to the root of that issue,” Plucker said.

Brian Pearson
Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net