Owner questions need for fencing around site
The owner of B2G Compost has appealed a requirement from Okanogan County that she surround the entire facility with a slatted chain-link or wooden fence.
After reviewing public comments on B2G’s plans for a small-scale commercial composting facility on Horizon Flats Road in Winthrop, the Okanogan County Planning Department added the fencing requirement in its final environmental determination. B2G plans to process fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, spent grains, wood chips and sawdust in aerated composting bins.
B2G owner Kate Wynne talked with the county’s planning director and the planner who’s handling her application for clarification about the fencing requirement. Wynne proposed an alternative that she says would address concerns raised by the county and members of the public — constructing an electric fence around the composting bins to exclude bears and erecting berms or hedges that would screen the facility without blocking wildlife.
The county received about 20 comments on the B2G proposal from the public and from county and state agencies. The majority of individuals had concerns about odor and noise and said that the facility doesn’t belong in a residential area. One worried about “rotting and decomposing materials.” Several were concerned about increased traffic and wear and tear on the road. Others said the facility could pose safety risks, especially to children.
Some people wanted to be sure that there would be fencing to keep bears and other animals from becoming habituated. Three commenters, including a neighbor, said they fully supported the composting facility.
B2G has constructed three aerated bins where food and yard waste will decompose at carefully calibrated temperature over 30 days. After that, the compost will dry in windrows on an impermeable asphalt pad. Wynne’s business plan calls for regular monitoring of temperature and of the ratio of carbon to nitrogen to ensure that the organic waste breaks down efficiently and with no odors, she said.
Feedstock would come from restaurants and breweries, and through a partnership with Methow Recycles, which would collect organic waste from the public for Wynne to pick up.
Wynne said she understands that a bear fence and an aesthetic barrier address environmental impacts, but said the county hasn’t shown how a security fence around the entire perimeter — 600 linear feet of fencing — qualifies as an environmental mitigation.
“Fences are not a good thing — I’m a wildlife biologist,” said Wynne, who recently retired from a career as a professor of marine biology at the University of Alaska. “You never put up a fence when there’s wildlife.”
Wynne says access to the compost facility would be limited, since it’s at the end of Horizon Flat Road, which dead-ends at her property. No keys will be left in vehicles or equipment. Even her insurance company doesn’t require a locked fence, she said.
A model for rural composting?
Wynne has been developing plans for a small commercial composting facility for about two years. Last year, she tested and refined the process, making compost from spent grains and restaurant scraps by turning all the piles by hand with a pitchfork. She regularly monitored the temperature of the piles to arrive at the optimal balance of feedstock.
Wynne said that a major impetus for starting a compost facility came when she learned that the Twisp transfer station steam-treats all green waste and woody debris to kill the apple maggot and then trucks it to the central landfill in Okanogan. An agreement with Okanogan County Solid Waste for B2G to accept green waste from the transfer station has been put on hold until the permitting is complete, Wynne said.
That would not only save energy, but would also produce a beneficial soil enhancer, Wynne said.
When the Okanogan County Planning Department approved Wynne’s site plans for the B2G facility last August, Wynne was told that the project didn’t have to go through a review under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). But after Wynne built the infrastructure and aerated bins, she learned that the Planning Department had made a mistake and that her proposal was in fact subject to SEPA review, she said.
“It’s in writing that they messed up. This review should have happened before it was built,” Wynne said. Wynne had planned to be making and selling compost now — during the growing season. “I spent money, but now I can’t use it,” she said.
Wynne said she can still operate this year using the same technique as last year — by turning the compost by hand — since she has an air-quality permit exemption from the Washington Department of Ecology. The exemption allows her to produce up to 1,000 cubic yards of compost per year. Last year Wynne produced 36 cubic yards of compost, which she estimates kept 17 tons of organic waste out of the landfill.
One of Wynne’s primary goals is to demonstrate that it’s possible to create a small-scale compost facility that isn’t smelly or unsightly and that could serve as a model for Okanogan County and other rural areas. New state legislation requires more composting and the reduction of organic materials in landfills.
Wynne said she understands that many people picture an industrial facility that runs around the clock, but the county’s conditions restrict operations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., four days a week. The aeration fans can run for one minute out of every hour. The facility can be open to the public for bulk sales only one day a week and there’s a maximum of three delivery vehicles per day.
Even at a larger scale, B2G’s operations this year would still be exempt from an air-quality permit because the facility will be processing spent grains and fruit and vegetable scraps, which are typically not odorous, Ecology Air Quality Engineer Ryan Vicente said.
Ecology plans to make a technical assistance visit once the facility is up and running to determine whether B2G will need an air-quality permit next year, Vicente said.
Wynne’s appeal will be heard by the Okanogan County hearing examiner. The date of the hearing hasn’t been announced yet.