CLE ELUM — Seattle is poised to approve a $4 million annual contract to truck its food and yard waste over Snoqualmie Pass to a proposed compost plant that Kittitas County residents are determined to block.
A top Kittitas County planning official estimated there’s a 70 percent chance the project, southeast of Cle Elum, won’t get a permit. And even if it does, he said, the process could take as much as six years.
“It is nowhere near ready to go,” Kittitas County head planner Robert “Doc” Hansen told a room full of concerned neighbors Tuesday night.
In February, he asked PacifiClean, the company building the facility, to address concerns about visual impact, odor, dust, noise, wetlands, traffic, road improvements, stormwater and groundwater, and fire danger.
The company has yet to respond but says it intends to.
The city plans to start sending 60,000 tons of organic waste to Kittitas County next year. Seattle Public Utilities officials say they don’t expect an extended delay, although Director Ray Hoffman acknowledged that compost is “a very difficult commodity” and that community concerns could slow it down.
“Not everyone would view this as a nice green environmental thing they want to welcome into the neighborhood,” he told a Seattle City Council committee Tuesday.
If the facility isn’t finished, PacifiClean would take the waste temporarily to Cedar Grove in Maple Valley and Everett. Cedar Grove has been taking Seattle’s food and yard waste since 2001. In 2012, that was about 100,000 tons.
The compost contract expires next year, and Cedar Grove, plagued by lawsuits and odor violations, did not bid to continue handling Seattle’s compost. So the city has negotiated with newly formed PacifiClean to send 60 percent of the city’s organic waste to Kittitas County.
The remaining 40 percent of Seattle’s organic waste would go to an existing plant near Stanwood, under the contracts the Seattle City Council will consider Monday.
PacifiClean General Manager Larry Condon said his company considers the Kittitas County site a perfect location for a compost plant. It’s just off the freeway, and the company plans to use the natural gas created by the compost process to run a fleet of as many as 54 trucks a day in and out of the plant.
The plant would produce organic fertilizer used by Eastern Washington farms, he said, so it would be convenient to be on the east side of the mountains. Cutting-edge technology would control the smell, he said.
“We’re not trying to slide anything under the door,” he said. “We went out in good faith to locate the site that we thought would have little or no impact on the neighbors. ... It’s just that simple, we’re good people, and we want to build a great facility.”
Residents of the rural area, who say they live there for the fresh air and wildlife, are determined to stop it. They packed the Sunlight Waters Country Club on Tuesday night, exasperated by the length of the process and worried about their property values.
Carl Nelson made a trip to Seattle to testify to the City Council and then returned that evening to tell his neighbors they had less than a week to call the Seattle council members and mayor and “give them an Excedrin headache.”
“It’s the rotten bacon from Costco and the fish guts from Ballard. You do not want it on your land,” he said.
The Seattle council was scheduled to vote on the contract this Monday but sent it back to committee to address questions about concerns raised by labor and people who live near the site in Kittitas County. But in the end, the council committee voted Tuesday to approve the contract, in part because it didn’t have any other option, members said.
“It sounds to me like there are a lot of questions,” said Council member Sally Bagshaw. “Our colleagues in Kittitas County will have their work cut out for them.”