Marysville resident Kelli Goldsbury (standing) posed questions about a proposed odor study to PSCAA executive Craig Kenworthy during a community meeting held July 24.
Representatives of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) met with nearly a hundred skeptical residents at Allen Creek Elementary in Marysville on July 24 to talk about the agency's plans to conduct a one-year study to identify and track odors in north Everett and Marysville, followed by another year of analysis and negotiation.
Most of the people in the room, including officials with the City of Marysville and the Tulalip Tribes, were unconvinced about the study's need and its validity.
"Your own inspectors say that Cedar Grove (Composting) is the problem," said Mike Davis, founder of Citizens for a Smell-Free Snohomish County. "This study just puts things off for another two years."
Craig Kenworthy, executive director of PSCAA, outlined the study's parameters, which will include the placement of eight odor monitors -- called "e-noses" -- at or near suspected odor-generating locations to collect real-time data for a year. At the same time, PSCAA will rely on information from trained community observers, whose reports will help correlate community impacts with odor sources.
"Part of this project asks you to participate, to use your noses," said Kenworthy. "If we're going to be able to make any demands on ongoing operations, tell someone to change their business practices, we have to have the data to make that case."
The data collection method itself is a source of contention for many. The PSCAA has decided to use e-nose equipment and monitoring provided by Odotech, a company that already contracts with Cedar Grove.
The eight e-noses, four of which already belong to Cedar Grove and are located at the company's Smith Island facility, would also likely be placed at the Marysville sewage treatment lagoon, Pacific Topsoils and other suspected odor sources.
Marysville mayor Jon Nehring was visibly upset by the arrangement. "Odotech is a vendor of Cedar Grove. It's a stretch to ask our community to trust their reporting, and we'll likely just waste another two years on this."
Kenworthy assured the crowd that PSCAA had looked at options provided by other companies, but "all roads lead to Odotech." The Canadian company, said Kenworthy, is the only one that's set up for the kind of commercial use and real-time monitoring the study requires.
"We consider Odotech to be the only company we are aware of that offers the type of technology and services desired for this project, and they are qualified to do this work," said Kenworthy in a followup email. "We are aware of other companies that offer e-noses that can be used for certain purposes, but Odotech offers a unique combination of commercialized continuous e-nose monitoring for odor sources and meteorological data collection to support the project through modeling and data management."
Marysville officials disagree with that assertion, and both Nehring and members of his staff recounted their efforts to develop a more independent and objective solution, one that focused on enforcement.
In fact, Gloria Hirashima, the city's development director and chief administrator, said the process of developing the odor study criteria was "the most disappointing public process I have seen in 22 years of public service."
"I have spent hundreds of hours on this project," said Hirashima, "and I am convinced that the process was pre-determined to select the Cedar Grove vendor."
After the city's objections to Odotech were made, Hirashima said she received a letter from Kenworthy agreeing with the complaints and saying "our (the city's) concerns were valid." In that letter, the PSCAA exec said the agency had decided not to go forward with the study.
A few days later the city learned PSCAA would go forward with the study, using Odotech as the primary vendor.
"We are very disappointed in PSCAA," said Hirashima. "We're back at ground zero now. We've wasted time."
The odor study is expected to cost $375,000, with $200,000 of that cost paid by Cedar Grove. A portion of that amount, $119,000, is already owed to PSCAA as a result of two previous air quality fines. Other study funders are the City of Seattle ($100,000), King County ($50,000) and the PSCAA, which will cover $25,000 of the cost.
Several citizens asked about Cedar Grove's compliance-or lack thereof-with operational permits issued by PSCAA and the City of Everett. The composting company's grinder, which processes food and other organic waste, was required to be covered in the original permit, issued in 2004, yet it still operates in the open air.
In 2011 the PSCAA ordered Cedar Grove to enclose the grinder building, but allowed open air grinding to continue until May of 2012. That deadline has come and gone with no change.
Steve Gobin, business manager for Quil Ceda Village, argued, "Cedar Grove has been out of compliance every month since they opened up. We're not trying to shut down their business, but they need to act responsibly and mitigate these issues."
Marysville City Councilmember Jeff Seibert offered a compromise to Kenworthy. "Why don't you buy the equipment from Odotech, but train someone from PSCAA to collect the data and monitor the results?"
"Odotech won't sell the equipment without the monitoring contract," Kenworthy replied.
Kenworthy noted that the e-noses will help supplement the work done by PSCAA's 12 inspectors, who are responsible for responding to complaints in four counties in western Washington. "We work for you, and for 3.7 million other people," he said.
"Why not take some of that study money and hire more inspectors?" asked Kevin Nielsen, director of Public Works for Marysville. "We'd be happy to provide an office right at the sewage treatment plant, so an inspector could be within minutes of any odor complaint in this area."
The study is slated to get underway this fall, ending in late 2013.
A group of community volunteers will be recruited to augment the data collected by the electronic equipment, and Kenworthy invited those who might be interested in the project to contact PSCAA.
"The agency will be holding a public meeting in the near future for people interested in more information about volunteering," said Kenworthy. "The date of the meeting is yet to be determined, since we are still finalizing the details of our contract with Odotech."
In the meantime, residents can learn about project updates, including public meetings and recruitment for community odor monitoring volunteers, by sending an e-mail to OdorProject@pscleanair.org and requesting to be notified as the project progresses.