South Issaquah residents seek relief from odors

May 25, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Air quality officials seek comments

Fed up with odors wafting from nearby Cedar Grove Composting, residents in the Four Lakes neighborhood south of Issaquah asked the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to do something about the smell.

Now, as the air quality agency considers a permit for the composting facility, Four Lakes leaders want community members to offer input.

The agency wants to consolidate five permits for projects dating to 1993 into a single permit. The permit requires, for instance, Cedar Grove to filter air and handle waste inside enclosed spaces. In some cases, the company has already taken steps called for in the proposal.

The draft permit does not allow for production increases or changes to the way the facility operates.

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency officials will accept comments on the proposal until June 15. The agency will also hold a community meeting June 3 at Maple Hills Elementary School.

Cedar Grove turns food scraps and yard waste from more than 500,000 households in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties into compost at the Maple Valley facility.

The agency has received almost 8,000 complaints about the facility since 1988, with most of the complaints related to odor. Downwind residents reported burning eyes and throats as a result of the stench.

“Unfortunately, on the nice, sunny days when you want to be outside, that’s when it’s the worst,” Four Lakes resident Tara Bingham said.

Jerry Bartlett, chief environmental and sustainability officer for Cedar Grove, said the company has worked hard to control odors. Crews unload and grind waste in a negative-air-pressure environment in order to prevent odors from escaping the facility.

The company has a specialist in the area near the facility for 40 hours each week to monitor smells and verify complaints. The program started about five years ago in the summer, when the odor peaks, and has since expanded into a year-round position.

Four Lakes residents remain unconvinced about the effectiveness of the steps taken by Cedar Grove.

Terry Deschenes, president of the Four Lakes homeowners group, said residents want the company to act as a good neighbor and eliminate the smell.

Deschenes, Bingham and other Four Lakes residents toured the LRI landfill in Pierce County to learn about the methods used there to control foul odors. The system impressed the residents; they hope to see Cedar Grove take similar steps to control the smell.

Steve Van Slyke, the compliance manager for the air quality agency, said the agency works to follow up on complaints, but enforcement can prove difficult.

“Odors are the hardest cases to work on,” Van Slyke added.

Often, winds shift and odors dissipate by the time an inspector reaches the area where the complaint originated.

The agency — then called the Puget Sound Air Pollution Control Agency — fined Cedar Grove $490,000 in 1997. The action prompted the company to install new equipment to tackle odors.

Neighbors reached a $14.5 million settlement with Cedar Grove in early 1999. Conditions from the settlement will be incorporated into the permit under consideration per the agreement.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

Get involved

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency will accept written and verbal comments on a proposed permit for Cedar Grove Composting during a June 3 meeting at Maple Hills Elementary School, 15644 204th Ave. S.E., Renton. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

The agency will also accept written comments on the permit until June 15. Send comments to Engineer Claude Williams, 1904 Third Ave., Suite 105, Seattle, WA 98101-3317. E-mail comments to Comments can also be faxed to 206-343-7522.

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