A yearlong study of the odors that permeate some Marysville neighborhoods has only worsened a feud between the composting company Cedar Grove and city officials and residents.
The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which did the $453,600 study, said electronic odor-monitoring devices detected smells from compost and two wastewater-treatment plants, but nearly all the unpleasant reports by volunteer sniffers concerned compost odors.
Cedar Grove responded to the study with a news release headlined: “Science shows Marysville’s blame game is off the mark.”
The company sent a five-page letter threatening to sue the clean-air agency if it sticks with the study’s findings that said while there are three sources of odors in the area, most of the volunteers reported smelling compost.
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Cedar Grove officials said the electronic-monitoring devices show the compost plant isn’t the major source of odors.
“The science can’t be denied,” Cedar Grove wrote in a news release. “If the city wants to continue to blame only Cedar Grove, then they are also going to have to claim that the world is flat and if we sail too far out into Puget Sound we’ll fall off the edge of the Earth.”
In Cedar Grove’s news release, put out by its public-relations consultant, the company also criticized Marysville for hiring its own public-relations consultant.
“If the city had spent tax dollars controlling its odor sources rather than on a political public-relations firm, the air might smell much better over Marysville today,” the release said.
Marysville residents have complained for years about a rotting-food smell that lingers over their backyards and sometimes stinks out the annual Strawberry Festival. In 2010, the city joined neighborhood activists to fight Cedar Grove, which since 2004 has processed tons of yard and food waste at its 28-acre facility. About 20 percent of the waste comes from Seattle.
The company has long insisted it is not the source of the odor.
The dispute has resulted in thousands of dollars in fines for Cedar Grove, which had odor violations as recently as this summer. Marysville was ordered to pay $143,740 for withholding public records during its campaign to pin the odor problem on the compost plant.
At least two lawsuits have been filed by residents against Cedar Grove.
The fight culminated with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency study, which was paid for by Seattle, King County, the state Department of Ecology and a settlement with Cedar Grove allowing them to chip in for the study in lieu of paying odor-violation fines.
“We really wanted to be able to understand better what was going on in the area so we could figure out what to do next,” said Joanne Todd, a spokeswoman for the clean-air agency.
Marysville called the study a stall tactic and refused to cooperate.
For a year, a company called Odotech collected data from odor-monitoring devices called electronic noses. They hoped the devices would help track smells as they traveled into town, but the weather did not cooperate for much of the study.
The electronic noses concluded that there were discernible odors from the compost plant and from the Everett and Marysville wastewater-treatment plants. Some of the most intense odors came from the treatment plants.
In addition, the study trained 15 volunteers to record what they smelled. Of the unpleasant odors reported, 163 of them were compost, and only three were reports of biogas or sewage.
Todd said the agency is trying to understand why the volunteers detected compost smells even though the electronic noses found odors at the plants, too.
Cedar Grove argues electronic noses should be trusted over human noses, which are attached to possibly biased humans. They questioned the reliability of the volunteers. In their attorney’s letter to the clean-air agency, they say the study was flawed.
“You really need to use the science to find the real culprit. And really until you find the culprit, you can’t do anything about the odor,” said Jim Kneeland, a communications consultant for Cedar Grove. “It’s really hard to argue that we can trust the regular nose rather than the scientific data.”
Marysville city administrator Gloria Hirashima said she isn’t surprised the study led nowhere.
“I think what everyone hoped was that Cedar Grove would see the results and show some willingness to work toward a solution,” she said. “But instead, they released this really inflammatory and inaccurate press release.”
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter