Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Plan for composting plant may not pass the aroma test

Surrey is looking at a proposal to build a composting plant on land zoned for agricultural use, as municipalities strive to divert tonnes of organic waste from landfills.

But the plan, proposed by Private Grove Developments for 25 acres at 176th Street and 12th Avenue in south Surrey, has residents raising a stink about the potential odour problem.

Critics also say that if the plant goes ahead, Metro Vancouver will lose more valuable land for food production, but advocates insist composting should be considered an agricultural process rather than an industrial one because it creates organic soil for food production and is essential for sustainable waste management.

The plant would produce thousands of times more soil for food production than the land it displaces, says Richard Shatto of Point Nexus Consulting, a firm hired by Pilot Grove.

He said that up until now there have been no standards for compost plants so, "big smelly piles of manure and rotting organics is what most people think of."

The company argues industrial land, which is ten times the price of agricultural land, is too expensive for composts, which rely on tipping fees that typically run around $70 a tonne.

Cost for industrial land in Metro Vancouver is around $1 million per acre compared to $100,000 per acre for agricultural-zoned land, said Shatto.

As for the smell, the company said it will install high-tech biofilters that will eliminate the nauseous odour. Biofiltration is a pollution-control technique using trillions of microscopic bacteria to capture pollutants.

Ron Koukal, who lives nearby on 176th Street, said the plant would stink up the neighbourhood and thinks it should be developed on industrial land instead, away from residents' noses.

He doesn't believe the company when it says there will be virtually no smell.

"I don't trust them. If that's what they do they are turning that land into a dump. They can buy the land a lot cheaper. And I don't think that once they get the land they are going to spend the money to get rid of the smell."

Koukal said he and his neighbours are also concerned about the value of their houses going down.

"And what about tourism? There's a new tourism centre nearby. The sign says 'Welcome to Surrey the City of the Future,' but if there is odour ... tourists will think Surrey smells bad."

John Paul, owner of Transform Compost Systems, which designed the biofilters, said they will place filters in the receiving area, which will be enclosed in a building, and another one in the building where the composting process will take place.

He said residents should not be concerned about the smell because the process has already been tested in Agassiz. There are also biofilters at the UBC compost and at the one in Whistler.

Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt, who is in favour of the proposal, said he is not concerned about the odour either, arguing that it would smell far less than a chicken or hog farm, which are considered for use on the ALR.

"The smelly part is inside a building and the air will be sucked out and goes through a biofilter. So that's not an issue."

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