N. Plains residents aren't sure Nasal Ranger will help

Nasal Ranger to the rescue!by: COURTESY PHOTO - Technicians with Recology hope to employ the Nasal Ranger, seen here in a promotional shot from the manufacturer, to sort out sents at the firms North Plains composting facility.

At least, that’s what the owners of the Nature’s Needs composting facility in North Plains hope will happen.

The Nasal Ranger Field Olfactometer is a device manufactured by St. Croix Sensory to detect unpleasant odors. It is a large white tube approximately 2 feet long that is held to the nose after being calibrated for specific smells.

Officials with the Recology resource recovery company have proposed that independent monitors equipped with the device be deployed at their facility.

The officials made the proposal to the Washington County Commission, which must decided whether the facility can keep processing food waste by the end of the year. Many residents and business owners in North Plains charge the food waste is generating offensive odors that frequently drift into the small community along Highway 26 just west of Hillsboro.

During an Oct. 23 work session, the commissioners asked that a committee of Recology and North Plains officials be formed to determine objective standards for measuring the odors coming from the facility. They want an answer by Nov. 20, when the vote on extending the permit could happen.

The commissioners requested the work be done, even though a number of them questioned whether it was even possible. During the meeting, commissioners Bob Terry and Roy Rogers referred to the Nasal Ranger as the Nose-o-meter, the Stench-o-meter and the Stink-o-meter.

After the meeting, Recology Group General Manager Paul Yamamoto said he was confident the company could solve the odor problem. Yamamoto, who had traveled from San Francisco for the meeting, said the company has spent just under $5 million on improvements at the plant that were only recently completed. They include paving the ground where the materials are composted and installing a draining system, both of which are intended to better handle the moisture used in the composting process.

“We can manage this and are hopeful the commission will give us an opportunity to prove it,” said Yamamoto, who was accompanied by former Washington County Commissioner Tom Brian and Portland lobbyist Len Bergstein.

Critics who attended the meeting were not hopeful, however.

“It’s ridiculous to say they can set objective odor standards. They are literally dooming the future of North Plains,” said Marilyn Schulz, an area farmer and co-founder of Stop the Stink, a grassroots group opposed to plant continuing to operate at its current location.

100 unhappy people

The controversy is the result of the aggressive composting policies adopted by the city of Portland. Natures Needs processes most of Portland’s yard debris, commercial food waste and residential food waste. Many North Plains residents say the odors coming from the facility became overwhelming just after Portland began its curbside composting program in October 2011.

“The stink just exploded then,” says North Plains resident and Stop the Stink co-founder Brenda Lepo.

Since then, odor complaints have been filed with the city almost every month, with a record 280 recorded in September of this year. Despite that, the North Plains City Council recently recommended giving Recology until next September to resolve the problem.

During the work session, a number of the commissioners were clearly worried that no compromise solution can be worked out between Recology officials and the critics. Terry wondered whether it was possible to convince the critics to accept at least some odors from the plant.

“They’re going to say zero is the right number, but we also know that there’s going to be at least some level of odors from a composting plant, just like there is from a farm,” said Terry.

Rogers did not like how the Nov. 20 meeting could turn out.

“I don’t want to be in a meeting at the end of the year with 100 unhappy people,” Rogers said.

County Chair Andy Duyck was more hopeful, however.

“I think we’re leaning towards extending the permit with conditions, so lets pull together a team and see what it can come up with,” Duyck said.

Ironically, many Portlanders are apparently unhappy about the changes with the garbage service, too. According to the annual city-sponsored community survey released this week, the number of Portland residents who rated garbage and recycling services “good” or “very good” dropped 12 percent between 2010 and 2011, when the curbside composting program was launched.

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