Mike McKibbin

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June 13, 2012
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Odors, complaints lead to compost shutdown order

More windows might be opened at night in West Rifle in the near future, after months of strong odors from a nearby composting operation kept many people inside and worried area businesses.

The city of Rifle issued a notice to quit to Caca Loco Compost owner Jim Duke on Friday, said City Attorney Jim Neu.

"It's basically an eviction process," Neu said. "It means no more material can be accepted."

Neu said Duke had complied with the order and the city would now find a company to haul the huge mounds of compost material to the Garfield County landfill miles to the west of Rifle.

"We don't know for sure how much is there or how long it will take," Neu added. "And I can't guarantee it won't smell while we move it, either. We just want to get rid of the smell as fast as we can."

Dick Hewitt, who owns Action Shop Services in West Rifle with his wife, Judy, and lives on the property, has been a vocal critic of the operation.

"When you clean up at night and jump into bed with nice, clean sheets, then you open a window for some fresh air, you get a smell like you're next to a diaper pail," Hewitt said Tuesday. "All of us in the neighborhood have been trying to deal with it and have a reasonable lifestyle. I think we were finally able to impress upon them how it's affected our health and ability to just enjoy life."

Duke, who has had similar operations between Aspen and Glenwood Springs for more than two decades, said he was surprised the city acted to close the site.

"I thought we were doing a pretty good job of staying on top of it," he said. "I think the odors were worse around Action Shop Services than they were on my site."

Duke called most of the area residents "very reasonable people."

He wasn't sure what he and his wife, Kathy, would do next.

"I'm just focused on passing along the site in a reasonable shape," Duke said.

Some of the equipment Duke uses need permits to be transported off site, he added, so the closure process would likely take days.

Hewitt said several times in an interview that they did not want to see Duke forced out of business and suffer a financial loss.

"It was just not a good location from the start," he explained. "There are people within 500 or 1,000 feet that are upwind from it, so we're the first ones to get it. All we ever heard were apologies and they were trying, but it never improved."

Even after Duke hauled away what Hewitt estimated to be 120 to 200 tons of food waste and other highly odorous compost material, "We didn't notice one iota difference in the odors," he said.

Neu would not say if the city paid Duke to cease operations, since he had a contract with the city to operate the facility.

"Those piles are worth money," Neu noted.

The city and Duke entered into a contract to operate the West Rifle composting site, next to the city of Rifle's regional wastewater treatment plant off U.S. Highway 6, in the spring of 2011.

A certificate of designation defined the operation of the 10-acre site. It could accept up to 11,000 cubic yards of biosolids from the city's nearby plant, septage, animal bedding and manure and portable toilet wastes a year. Other acceptable materials were wood and yard wastes, paper, cardboard and food wastes. The materials were mixed in specific piles on the site, with heavy equipment used to aerate the material and help the composting process.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found several concerns with Duke's operation during a compliance assistance inspection on April 11. Some had to do with paperwork, but inspectors noted odor complaints were not adequately addressed within seven days, as the certificate requires. Other concerns focused on stormwater drainage and pad liner permeability to protect groundwater sources.

Duke expressed strong remorse for the odor problems and stopped accepting food and grease waste, two common odor sources. Duke also installed low pressure misters around the entire fence line of the site. The misters sprayed an organic solution used by hospitals to help reduce odors, he said. Atomizer fans were also placed within the site and misters sat on top of the compost piles as well.

But all those measures didn't prevent area residents and businesses from regularly complaining about odors to city officials and at city council meetings.

"It may be a green thing, or an 'in' thing to try to keep things out of the landfill," Hewitt said. "But when people turn green because they're sick, it's not a good thing."

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The Post Independent Updated Jun 13, 2012 05:35PM Published Jun 13, 2012 05:31PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.