Cedar Grove Composting has decided to shelve-for now-plans to pave 170,000 square feet of land and add an anaerobic digester at its Smith Island location in Everett, following a determination by the City of Everett and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency that a full environmental impact study would be required for the project.
After months of discussions, hearings and thorough arguments against the proposed expansion submitted by the City of Marysville and the Tulalip Tribes, the joint agencies ruled on May 23 that Cedar Grove would be required to complete a stringent environmental review before beginning the production of biofuel.
Many residents breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the news, including Mike Davis, chair of Citizens for a Smell-Free Snohomish County.
"If nothing else, [the decision] will bring Cedar Grove to the table with a reasonable expectation of a solution," said Davis.
The original permit for Cedar Grove's operation, issued in February 2004, allowed the company to process 123,000 tons of waste each year. However, because the estimated time for "curing" compost was decreased through new technology, and traffic impacts were less than initially anticipated, the company has successfully gained incremental permission to increase its output to 228,521 tons per year without undergoing any supplemental review.
Cedar Grove was seeking approval to fill 6 acres of wetland, pave over 170,000 square feet of open land, and add the digester equipment. The company's earlier application for this expansion, which was withdrawn and scaled back, would have asked for permission to produce 620,000 tons of compost per year. The permit application, which was filed in 2008, refers to the company's eventual plan to install seven anaerobic digesters and three Gore pads, all designed to turn food and yard waste into compost while capturing a biogas byproduct, although the application specifically mentions only one digester.
In its May 23 ruling, Everett and PSCAA determined that the digester plan is "part of a probable full build-out of the site." The agencies agreed that "the impacts, including cumulative impacts, should be analyzed in a single environmental document."
The composting operation has never been the subject of an environmental impact study.
Cedar Grove is suspected to be the source of noxious odors that plague much of Marysville and north Everett, depending on wind direction, particularly on warm days. Residents in many Marysville neighborhoods report that they have suffered breathing problems, and have to keep their windows closed despite the heat in order to avoid the smell.
Marysville officials were pleased with the determination of significance. Mayor Jon Nehring has stated that Cedar Grove's operation should be considered a regional waste management facility, subject to utilities commission review and oversight.