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NEWPORT, Maine — People who live near Soil Preparation Inc., a controversial sludge processing plant in Plymouth, are upset with new draft odor limits set by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection that are six times higher than initially proposed.
“Originally, it was 25 parts per million, but the limits set by the DEP are six times that at 150 parts per million,” Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said Friday at his office, with six Plymouth residents fed up with the odor from the plant seated beside him.
Fredette sponsored a 2013 law that directs the Maine DEP to create solid waste management rules for septage and wastewater treatment sludge processors — including compost manufacturer Soil Prep. — to measure odors, determine when an odor is considered a nuisance, and establish an odor management plan to address the problem, according to the DEP’s fact sheet about the draft rules.
Environmental consultant Ted Johnston, who works for Soil Prep., said the proposed nuisance odor limits are fair and cannot be zero, if the business is to continue to operate. He said company leaders understand where residents are coming from since, “it has a unique smell and it’s human waste.”
“At 25 parts per million you can’t smell anything,” he said. “It’s not until you get to over 250 [ppm] — it’s in the 300 [ppm] range — when you detect anything.”
If the odor limits exceed 150 ppm for five hours in a month’s time, that is considered a nuisance under the proposed DEP rules, Johnston said. The rules are expected to take effect in the next few weeks.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said.
No testing has been done yet to determine what odor levels the plant is producing.
The upset residents with Fredette, some of whom testified before the DEP about the law, have been vocal for years about the “horrific” odors at their homes.
They collected more than 200 petition signatures from Plymouth residents in a matter of days after hearing about the new odor limits and want the DEP to reduce the nuisance odor limits significantly.
“We smell it all the time,” said Mike Seavey, who lives with his wife, Linda, on Route 69 less than a mile from the plant.
Paula LeBlanc, who runs PJ’s Childcare, said the children that she cares for complain about the smell and sometimes get sick when taken outside.
“It’s awful,” she said.
Imagine a huge composting pile that contains human waste that has to be turned over occasionally and you’ll get a pretty good idea about what is happening at Soil Prep., Plymouth resident Danielle McGrath said, describing the plant that processes sludge and dewatered septage on Valley Road.
The odor is so bad Jim Mousseau said he can’t sell his home. He said he wanted to sue his real estate agent for non-disclosure but found out realtors only have to inform property abutters when there is a known odor problem.
A distinct, pungent odor could be detected at Soil Prep.’s office Friday morning, but was not detectable at the end of the roadway that connects to Moosehead Trail.
Two doors down from the junction of Valley and Moosehead live Mark and Lyla Hayes. Lyla was outside pulling weeds from her flower garden on Friday.
“We’re the lucky ones. The smell goes that way,” she said, pointing southwest of the plant and her property. “They probably get it daily. We don’t notice it but maybe twice a week.”
The couple, especially Mark Hayes, has been very vocal in filing complaints with the DEP and in the 15 years since the plant and associated pit began operating, changes for the better have been made, she said.
The company now washes the trucks after they dump their loads, a change made after complaints of dripping waste found along Moosehead Trail were made, Lyla Hayes said.
The smell is bad, but another big issue for the Hayes, Fredette and others is the company’s tax-exempt status with the town because it provides waste management for the community.
“They didn’t research enough before they allowed it,” Lyla said of former town officials.
Soil Prep. is licensed to accept septic waste and sludge for processing into organic non-food crop fertilizers and has been using advanced alkaline stabilization with subsequent accelerated drying, known as the N-Viro Soil Process, since 2000, according to a DEP memorandum.
The group that gathered at Fredette’s office also said the company has not kept its word about installing a biosolids gasification line designed to reduce odors that company officials said would be online in January.
The company, which employs about 20-25 people, is investing more than $10 million into the new technology that “bakes the odor right out of it,” Johnston said.
“We just got the permit in the spring,” he said. “It’s new technology and the DEP was very thorough in their review.”
For now, Fredette and the group urged residents to continue to call the DEP with any odor complaints from the facility. Fredette said he will seek a hearing to appeal the rules with the Maine Board of Environmental Protection.
“Call the DEP and complain,” McGrath said. “If you don’t complain, nothing will change.”
Neighbors have complained since the plant opened about offensive odors, blowing trash and, at one point, rats in the area.
Even though efforts have been made by the company to improve odor and other issues, it’s not enough, Lyla Hayes said.
“Last Saturday, we could smell it in our house. We don’t have air-conditioning, so our windows were open,” Hayes said. “We couldn’t stand it.”