After neighbors raised a stink, the Bainbridge Island City Council pulled back on the reins Tuesday night on a proposed facility for composting that would include horse manure.
The council is now leaning against the specific Aveteera compost proposal that it favored 4-3 just a few weeks ago. One favorable vote was made by Kol Medina, who has left the council to take a job elsewhere. Mayor Leslie Schneider and Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos changed their stance due to neighbors complaints and because they want an “island wide look to create standards for composting” in general, the mayor said.
Councilmember Rasham Nassar added that she was “shocked and disappointed by the council’s previous vote and supports the change in direction. “It’s a win-win. It’s what the neighbors want,” she said.
Many of those neighbors spoke out at the last two City Council meetings during public comments. Most are neighbors of the proposed compost facility at property owned by William Moore of Bainbridge Island known as the “Triangle Sandpit” at Lynwood Center, Fletcher Bay and Bucklin Hill roads.
Wendy Tyner said she doesn’t like the mining business that’s already there. She said it’s in violation of its permit in many ways. She is concerned that the council went against the Planning Commission’s recommendation regarding a composting site on the 7.9 acres in a residential zone. “It doesn’t belong here. It’s too close to our wells,” she said, adding air quality and rodents also are a concern.
Leah McGuire asked how could there be no smell from such a facility with manure and waste trucked in? “We bought this house knowing it was a residential area,” she said, adding later that it would hurt property values.
Kevin Miller said he is president of a homeowners association with 36 homes, and he asked the council to reconsider its motion.
Jeff West of Olympic Organics in Kingston said it’s possible to have such a facility in a residential zone, but it would be “challenging.” He said dust, noise and traffic can be issues, especially if it’s busy and running up to 20 hours a day. He said odors are “a fact of life. It smells like money. It’s heavily regulated for a reason.”
Aveteera Chief Executive Officer Mollie Bogardus, who grew up on the island, said concerns about the proposed compost facility are based on perceptions, not facts.
“There is modern technology that makes composting a very different thing” than what they think, she said.
Bogardus, who operated an equestrian facility on the island for 30 years, said her concerns about the difficulty in getting rid of horse manure was one of the things that propelled her into getting her master’s degree in sustainable business, focusing on agricultural waste.
She then worked about a half-dozen years getting “boots on the ground experience” before starting Aveteera.
The company’s website says that it wants to create an environmentally responsible community-based composting site. It’s not going to be a huge industrial site as critics say.
“We’re going to need multiple sites,” because they are small, she said. “They can handle a very manageable volume of material.”
It’s basically going to be four 12- by 30-foot enclosed sheds. Horse manure and green waste like lawn-mowing clippings would be composted. A auger goes up and down the length of the shed stirring the compost. The auger’s noise is no louder than a vacuum cleaner.
Bogardus said she has facilities in California at equestrian centers, but there is a similar one on the island but critics have not taken up her offer to show it to them. Three City Council members did check it out.
As for water concerns, she said one of the neighbors tested a well and it was fine.
“Look at the common good,” she said. “It would be so much benefit to the island.”
Bogardus said the planning commission lacked some information in making its decision, but council members did see the similar one, and they are on record as favoring composting.
“We need to stop arguing and get to work,” Bogardus said. “This would be such an enormous improvement to that piece of property.”
A planning commissioner
Jon Quitsland of the Planning Commission said the panel devoted a lot of time to Aveterra’s proposal. A few members didn’t want composting on that property and a few others didn’t want it on any property zoned residential.
He thinks they shouldn’t approve the requested code amendment, but instead create regulations that would apply to any composting facility. “I worked with planners to draft such regulations, and we were close to having that piece in presentable shape,” he said.
However, at a recent City Council meeting, “The matter was dealt with in haste, and it wasn’t possible to explain all that we had in mind in the Planning Commission. Opponents of composting on the Triangle site may say that the Planning Commission is on their side, but it’s not that simple at all.”
Quitsland said not much can be done with the Triangle site because of the mining that’s taken place there. It can’t be used for residential. He prefers Vincent transfer station as the best location for composting, but was told by City Manager Morgan Smith that other plans are in place for that site.
Quitsland said he trusts Bogardus has the professional resources to get this going, and longtime owner Moore is ready to unload the property.
Michael Sherry is one of the neighbors who hoped the City Council would change its direction at Tuesday night’s study session.
He had hopes that with Kol Medina leaving the council and moving to Walla Walla, the council might have a “change of heart, take a different direction.”
Medina previously voted in favor of Aveteera in a 4-3 decision. “The mayor (Lynn Schneider) wants to have a discussion about alternatives to the code amendment request,” Sherry said.
He agreed with Quitsland that the mining operation has “completely exhausted the commercial value of that land. It’s good for nothing.” Sherry said as sand was removed for construction fill was brought in that was not regulated, making water quality a huge concern.
He said between the Planning Commission and City Council the public process has been sidestepped. “The council does what it wants to do,” he said.
Sherry said the council probably pushed the process through because it thinks composting is something the city should be doing. “Apple pie and flag waving; good for environmentalists,” he said.
While he agreed composting is good, at an industrial level that would mean 20,000 tons a year. “That’s a hell of a lot of traffic,” he said, adding waste would have to be “lugged across Agate Bridge” because Bainbridge would not provide enough materials to make the facility pay for itself.
Sherry said neither the recently released Climate Plan or the Comprehensive Plan deals with composting as a priority. “Yet they want to ram this through,” he said. “The process is completely upside down.”
He said if there really is a problem and compost needed it needs to be studied with options presented. He said there are 18 better properties on the island that don’t have neighbors.
Finally, Sherry said he’s upset the council did not follow the Planning Commission’s recommendation. “It makes me mad as a citizen. It breeds mistrust,” he said.