Utah County cities, businesses file suit against compost facility over smell

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 18 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Compost piles, run by the Timpanogos Special Services District in American Fork, Wednesday, May 23, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

UTAH COUNTY — Pleasant Grove City, American Fork and other Utah community groups are filing a lawsuit against the Timpanogos Special Service District and its American Fork compost facility because of foul odors, seeking damages.

Utah County is also listed as a defendant in the complaint.

Citizens for Clean Air and Progress, the group filling the complaint, claims the District’s production of biosolids has grown more than 300 percent to 26,424 dry metric tons since 2010. The group is seeking to change the compost operation and is asking for financial damages.

The group also said in its complaint, which is expected to be filed Tuesday, that the composting operation is in violation of the District’s permit with the Utah Department of Water Quality.

“We feel like we have a pretty legitimate claim,” Scott Darrington, administrator for Pleasant Grove City and a member of CCAP, said in a phone interview. “My hope is that after the complaint is filed we can sit down and have a serious discussion about eliminating the composting.”

Jon Adams, manager of the Timponogos Special Service District, said in a phone interview that the District and its composting operations have done nothing to violate its permit. Adams also said that it isn’t even possible for the special service district to quadruple its compost production.

“We would not have seen that kind of increase,” Adams said in a phone interview. “That would be millions and millions of increase in flow, and that’s just not the case.”

To hit those growth numbers, the district would have to raise its average waste intake from 15 million gallons a day to about 50 million gallons, he said.

The District has mistakenly reported its increase in greenwaste in dry metric tons rather than yards in 2011, which means the actual amount of compost produced was 6,656 DMT, Adams said.

CCAP filed a notice of claim against the compost facility in May 2012, alleging the “foul” smell from the site has and will cause more than $425 million in damages.

A notice of claim is required to bring legal action against a municipality. After the claim is filed, the municipality then has 60 days to respond to the claim.

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 claim filed 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 devaluing properties and preventing any future land development for businesses.

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 in May said.

The District’s permit on file with the Utah Department of Water Quality prohibits it from discharging or placing “any waste or other substance in such a way as will be or may become offensive.”

Timponogos’ permit also does not “authorize any injury to private property or any invasion of personal rights,” which Citizens for Clean Air claims it has, according to the DWQ.

TSSD has only received two complaints in the past 120 days, Adams said.

Utah County is not active in the complaint process because officials believe that this is a matter involving only CCAP and the special service district, said Commission Chair Larry Ellertson.

“They are continuing to try and improve the situation so the problem alleviates itself,” Ellertson said in a phone interview. “'Zero tolerance' appears to be what [Citizens for Clean Air and Progress] are aiming for.”

Since the notice of claim was filed, CCAP has made several attempts to reach out to TSSD to resolve the issue but received no response, Darrington said.

“As for the claims that have been asserted in that notice of claim, the District does not agree with them,” Craig Carlile, the attorney representing TSSD, said in an interview.

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.”

EMAIL: jferguson@desnews.com

TWITTER: @joeyferguson

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