Community members and government representatives met in Sherwood last night to discuss ways to reduce the impacts of a local composting facility on nearby neighbors.
Grimm’s Fuel Company in Tualatin is a third-generation, family-owned company that creates and sells landscape products like barkdust and potting mix. It currently processes about 60 percent of the greater Portland area’s yard debris for composting.
Last night’s public meeting at Sherwood Center for the Arts was the third community conversation to address growing concerns over dust and foul odors wafting from the 80-foot compost pile at Grimm’s facility. Representatives from Metro, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, along with members of two community groups – Clean Air in a Safe Environment (CASE) and Oregon Air – all attended to talk about potential changes to future operations at Grimm’s Fuel Company.
The gathering provided an opportunity for nearby residents to discuss recommendations put forward in a report by Green Mountain Technologies, an independent consultant that Metro hired to assess Grimm’s operations. Metro manages the licensing process for garbage, recycling and composting facilities around greater Portland, while Oregon Department of Environmental Quality manages state regulations on how those facilities must operate.
“We are all proponents of composting,” CASE member Janine Wilson said. “We just want it done right.”
Wilson moved to Pony Ridge, the housing development just across Hwy. 99W from Grimm’s, three years ago. She said never would have bought the house had she known about the frequent and intense odor coming from Grimm’s. “Are there ways to modernize it to improve our quality of life?” she asked.
A lot has changed since Grimm’s Fuel started business in 1929
Grimm’s began in Lake Oswego as a firewood, sawdust and coal delivery service. Over time, the business shifted to creating soil amendments and in 1975 it moved to its current location in Tualatin. The area was less populated then. And over the years, development in the greater Portland area has expanded residential neighborhoods, some of which are now are in close proximity to the company’s operation. In addition, population growth also has translated into significantly more waste to compost.
Grimm’s current composting process is a low-tech, slow-working method in which yard waste is added to a passive static pile. By design, the pile requires infrequent turning. And air doesn’t get to the interior of the pile. It’s an “anaerobic” process – one that takes place in conditions without oxygen.
Microbes living in this oxygen-deprived environment are responsible for breaking down the organic material. They also are responsible for those offensive smells.
According to Green Mountain Technologies’ report, large static piles, like the one at Grimm’s, are not the industry standard for facilities located near populated areas.
No more passive static piles
“I was really pleased to read the assessment,” said Brett Hamilton, founding member of Oregon Air. He and his wife moved into their house, roughly a mile away from Grimm’s site, eight years ago.
“I’m really hopeful that every option requires continuous aeration,” he said.
The 86-page report outlined four approaches to improve Grimm’s operations. All four call for aerating much smaller static compost piles no more than 14 feet high. Getting air into the mix would encourage oxygen-loving microbes and eliminate anaerobic organisms behind much of the stench.
According to Green Mountain Technologies, an aerated approach would help speed up the composting process while also reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses, such as methane, that have an impact on climate. “An aerobic compost process generates 94 percent less methane than an aerobic process,” the report cites.
Additionally, all of the recommendations include some type of biofilter or biocover to help control odor. And all recommendations meet or increase Grimm’s current processing capacity. Where they differ is in price, design and output.
The first alternative is the least expensive with a $1.3 million price tag. It would employ rectangular static piles with positive and negative aeration options. This means that air could be pushed or pulled through the pile. The capacity for daily output would be 274 tons.
The second alternative employs a “doughnut configuration” with positive aeration only. It costs $1.9 million and has a daily output capacity of 280 tons.
The third option calls for a structure to cover the aerated pile completely. The report describes this option as “the Cadillac of composting systems” and claims that it would eliminate nearly all of the dust problems. At $15 million, it is the most expensive and would have a processing capacity of 337 tons a day.
The final alternative calls for “in-ground aeration” with options for positive and negative airflow. Depending on the daily tons capacity, it comes with a $5.8 million to $11 million price tag. This price does not include the cost of a storm water plan to handle the run-off from the piles.
The first two options can be implemented on Grimm’s existing facility. The second two options would mean expansion onto nearby land that Grimm’s already owns and would require additional land use approvals from the City of Tualatin.
Renewal of facility license will include improvement benchmarks
“We have been working hard to partner with community groups,” said Hila Ritter, Metro solid waste authorization coordinator. She added that Metro will be looking to apply lessons learned from Grimm’s site to compost facility standards around the Portland region.
Hamilton agreed. “Metro so far seems the first agency who has changed course since citizen input,” he said.
Diane Freedman, who is from King City and has been overwhelmed by the odor, says she has followed all of the news and public forums. Last night’s meeting felt different to her. “I’m feeling optimistic after this,” she said. “I heard that Grimm’s is on board. Everyone agrees that action will be taken.”
Metro is not likely to compel Grimm’s to implement any of these particular recommendations. The company is free to challenge them or find other consultants.
But, says Warren Johnson, solid waste compliance manager for Metro, when Grimm’s license expires at the end of the year, Metro will have set new performance benchmarks as a condition for renewal. It will likely be up to Grimm’s to determine the best way for them to meet these benchmarks.
While the company decides what approach to take, Dan Grimm, part owner and the president of Grimm’s, said it has been trying to respond to complaints in real time. He said the company has reached out to Green Mountain Technologies in an effort to come up with things to do now that can help reduce the smell, and that it has connected a biofilter to its existing screening system.
His brother and company vice president, Jeff Grimm, added that they have begun dismantling old structures on the property in preparation for operational adjustments. He accepts that change will happen but expressed concerns that costs might run over. “Even then, there is no guarantee that we will make everyone happy,” he said.
Of the 50 or so community members who turned out for the meeting, an overwhelming number expressed understanding for Grimm’s plight.
“We are not compost experts. It really is up to Grimm’s to decide what makes sense for them.” Wilson said. “We are pro-business, but we want the smells and dust to stay at the facility.”
Several community members raised questions about how Grimm’s could be helped through the process. “The solution is available, but it comes at a price,” Linda Moholt, CEO of the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce, said. “My hope is to advocate for solutions that will allow them to stay in business.”
Any solution will take time to implement. According to Green Mountain Technologies, it can take anywhere from six months to two years depending on the complexity of the approach.
Another public meeting will take place in the fall to discuss the proposed terms of Grimm’s next Metro license.
Neighboring residents seem to understand. “As long as it is moving in the right direction, I am willing to be patient,” Hamilton said. “People will put up with a lot as long as they know change is coming.”