Utah County cities, businesses claim more than $425 million in damages from compost smell

Published: Wednesday, May 23 2012 8:00 a.m. MDT

Mark Robinson, a business property owner in American Fork, stands in front of the for lease sign advertising the 25,000 sq. ft. office space, which he claims he can't fill because of the odors from a nearby compost facility. Robinson is part of the Citizens for Clean Air and Progress, a group that is filing claim against the Timpanogos Special Services District for the odors caused by their composting efforts.

Joey Ferguson, Deseret News

The cities of Pleasant Grove and American Fork, along with 12 other groups, will file a claim against a Utah County compost facility over "foul" smells from the site, which they say has and will cause more than $425 million in damages.

The 160-foot long compost piles, run by the Timpanogos Special Services District and located on the northern shore of Utah Lake near I-15 in American Fork, "emit obnoxious and foul odors through several miles of surrounding commercial and residential areas," according to the notice of claims that Citizens for Clean Air and Progress is scheduled to file on May 23. The group provided a copy of the claim to the Deseret News.

Citizens for Clean Air said in the claim that the odors are devaluating properties and preventing any future land development for businesses.

"After two years of getting nowhere, this is our last straw," said Scott Darrington, City Administrator for Pleasant Grove, in a telephone interview from Las Vegas where he was working to recruit businesses at a trade show. "We just don't have a choice. We have got to do something that is going to get their attention on how big of an issue this is for us. It's causing us problems economically."

State and city governments have lost $75 million and may additionally lose more than $350 million in tax revenue, property value and other costs associated with the smell, the group's claim said.

Two years ago, Pleasant Grove considered suing the compost facility but chose to try and work out agreements with the Special Services' board and the Utah County commissioners, Darrington said.

Pleasant Grove, along with a number of businesses, wanted the compost moved, but it isn't cost effective, Jon Adams, executive director of the Special Services District, said in a telephone interview. It would cost $2.1 million a year for hauling and composting.

"People's tolerance levels are different," Adams, who grew up in American Fork and has been with the Special Services district since 2008, said about the smell. "Whatever we do has to be in the long-term interest. In my opinion, hauling it off is a band-aid fix."

Composting costs the site about $600,000 a year. The organization then sells compost, generating $300,000 each year.

Adams says the compost facility has invested $16 million dollars to combat the smell. That includes $5 million for a canvas covering and ventilation system.

But for some that isn't enough.

Mark Robinson, who owns the North Pointe Business Park near the compost facility, said the only solution is to move the facility away.

"What we have now is a stigma," Robinson said. "Unless we can say 'the composting is gone,' I don't believe that we'll ever recover. I have empty space to fill, and people just won't come because they know it smells.

Utah's state government stands to gain the most if the odor wasn't scaring away development, with more than $210 million in potential tax revenues, according to a recent survey from Salt Lake-based Economic Solutions Group. The survey was commissioned by Dennis Baker, a Pleasant Grove business property developer.

Development of the commercial property near the compost facility would bring enough jobs to generate $60.6 million in income tax revenue from salaries, according to the study.

"If this thing develops into its proposed conceptual usage, it would be a very large employment boom of service, hospitality and professional jobs within the office parks," said David Baird, founder of Salt Lake-based Economic Solutions Group. "The state of Utah is set to reap the largest benefits if it were to move forward."

Robinson says he can't fill a 25,000 square foot vacancy in his office building because the compost piles sit a mile away.

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