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Composter gets county permit, will divert food waste

North Plains residents say changes won't remove stench


Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers predicted it would end this way.

When the commission first began reconsidering the permit for the Nature’s Need’s composting facility several months ago, Rogers said he feared the final meeting would end with a room full of angry people.

It did.

After listening to dozens of North Plains residents complain about offensive odors emanating from the facility just out their city limits Tuesday night, the commission unanimously voted to extend its permit with modifications.

The changes — which include diverting commercial food waste to another site — did not satisfy the critics. In public testimony and private conversations outside the hearing, they accused the commission of destroying the livability North Plains until at least the end of 2015, when the franchise expires.

“This was an experiment that failed. It’s time you stopped experimenting on us,” said North Plains Mayor David Hatcher.

The city has so far received more 1,500 odor complaints from more than 600 people.

Officials with Recology, the company that owns Nature’s Needs, disagreed. They testified that the commercial food waste was generating most of the offensive odors. Eliminating it will solve the problem, they said, insisting that the small amount of residential food waste mixed with Portland’s yard debris will not be a problem.

“We’ve invested around $5 million at Nature’s Needs to accommodate commercial food waste. The improvements should be more than adequate to handle the residential material,” said Recology Vice President Paul Yamamoto.

Neighbors reject food waste option

Many North Plain residents disagreed, arguing that the composting process itself produces offensive options, regardless of whether commercial food waste is included.

Part of their anger was also fueled by the last-minute nature of the agreement approved by the commission. It was developed during a work session held just a few hours before the hearing. Until then, the only two options under discussion was allowing the permit to expire immediately after the hearing or extending it on a test basis for only another seven months.

Before the final vote, commissioners tried to reassure the critics they could cancel Recology’s franchise at any time if the odors did not subside. The promise did not seem to satisfy them, however.

Yamamoto had some supporters in the standing room-only crowd. They included David White of the Oregon Refuse and Recycling Association, who said Recology was part of a responsible, industry-wide effort to reduce garbage going to landfills.

It will take at least five months to know if the change will make a difference. The commission authorized Recology to continue accepting commercial food waste until April 1 while it searches for another site to take it. After that, it will take another two months for all the commercial waste at Nature’s Needs to be processed into compost and sold. Only then will the commission learn if the odor is reduced.