Activist Questions Cedar Grove’s Ties with Composting Company Building Kittitas Facility

Carl Nelson, president of a Kittitas County group objecting to a proposed composting facility in its terrain, is understandably concerned about the track record of the company that has up until now handled Seattle’s food and yard waste: Cedar Grove. As we’ve reported, Cedar Grove’s two sites, in Everett and Maple Valley, have sparked thousands of odor complaints to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and four citizen lawsuits filed in the last few months.

A new company, PacifiClean Environmental LLC, is now set to take over much of Seattle’s composting, if it can get approval from Seattle City Council. But as Nelson sees it, the ties between PacifiClean and Cedar Grove are so strong that essentially “Cedar Grove is PacifiClean.?

In October, after Seattle Public Utilities selected PacifiClean as one of two composting contractors , the company sent out a press release that cited “Organic Soil Solutions, a private investment firm managed by J. Stephan Banchero, Jr,” as part of the “international team” behind the new composting company. Banchero is also president and CEO of Cedar Grove.

The release also referred to Cedar Grove as one of PacifiClean’s “expert consultants.”

What’s more, PacifiClean plans to use a critical piece of technology employed by Cedar Grove, namely a heavy fabric, called Gore, to cover the compost piles.

Yet, PacifiClean principal Jim Rivard says it is “totally erroneous” to equate his company with Cedar Grove. “I’ve never set foot on Cedar Grove property in my life,” he says. The main connection he says the two companies have is that Cedar Grove has agreed to serve as a backup in the case that PacifiClean’s facility is not ready in time.

Rivard allows, however, that Organic Soil Solutions—owned, he says, by “some of the owners of Cedar Grove”—maintains a 50 percent share in PacifiClean. The other 50 percent share is owned SRM Development, which is involved in real estate as well as composting and which is partially owned by Rivard. “We don’t need to front for Cedar Grove,” Rivard says, pointing out that among SRM’s projects is the expansion of the Google campus in Kirkland.

Whatever the exact connection, Cedar Grove’s history is playing a large role in the worries of Kittitas residents. Nelson points to a 2009 fire that arose at Cedar Grove’s Maple Valley site, caused by spontaneous combustion, according to company spokesperson Susan Thoman at the time. Contacted yesterday, Thoman said the fire was not related to composting, but to a wood pile stored at the site for biomass fuel production.

Still, Nelson stresses that “all it would take is a spark” to start a wildfire in Kittitas County given the area’s high winds, which sometimes travel at 30 to 40 miles per hour. “All it would take is a spark” to start a wildfire in Kittitas County, he says.

Kittitas County has high winds, sometimes traveling at 30 to 40 miles per hour, Nelson points out. “All it would take is a spark” to start a wildfire in Kittitas Coutny, he says.

Then there’s the odor issue that has caused such a fuss at Cedar Grove’s locations. “I step outside every morning and take three deep breaths of wonderful mountain air,” says Nelson, a transplant from Seattle. “The prospect of putrid air would ruin my quality of life.”

Nelson says he’s happy with the inroads he’s made with Seattle’s city council, which on Monday voted to postpone a vote on a contract with PacifiClean. In the mean time, Nelson says, the council has agreed to work with his group, called Kittitas Clean, on ways of strengthening the contract to avoid the kinds of problems that have plagued Cedar Grove.

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