Thursday, April 18, 2002
Composting facility not accepting new waste
Wendy Harris - Staff writer
The Spokane region's troubled composting facility -- backed up with tons
of herbicide-tainted material -- has stopped accepting new waste.
The private company that operates the Colbert facility is having trouble
selling the tainted compost.
It's now hoping to find some relief in its contract with the Spokane
Regional Solid Waste System.
Norcal Waste Systems of Spokane, which has been operating the composting
facility since the fall of 2000, is maxed out with 45,000 cubic yards of
"We are out of space, the site is full," said David Prunty, Norcal's
general manager. "It's been very difficult to market it."
Norcal signed a 10-year contract with the Solid Waste System in 2000.
The system is a joint venture of the city and county, but it is managed
by the city.
"We are in discussions with them about the contract," Prunty said.
Damon Taam, the Solid Waste System's contract manager, said officials
are working with Norcal to find a solution.
"We understand their situation and it's not something they caused," Taam
said. "We are trying to develop alternatives and assist them in their
Norcal stopped accepting yard waste in mid-February. Since then, all
grass clippings, tree trimmings, weeds and other debris are being
shipped to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Roosevelt, at the Solid
Waste System's expense. It's costing the system about $4 more per ton to
landfill it than pay Norcal to take it, Taam said.
Norcal's entrance into Spokane's recycling market was ill-timed, Prunty
Shortly after the San Francisco-based company signed its contract to
operate the Colbert composting facility, the effects of the herbicide
clopyralid were being realized.
The herbicide is found in a Dow AgroSciences product called Confront,
which has been popular with lawn care services in the region for killing
weeds, Prunty said.
But when it gets into compost material that ends up in gardens or farm
fields, it's also effective at killing broadleaf crops such as tomatoes
Last year, Dow voluntarily pulled Confront off the market in the region,
Taam said. Then last month, the state Department of Agriculture placed a
120-day ban on the use of the herbicide. Next week, the agency will hold
a public hearing on draft rules that would restrict the use of the
"It's a matter of time before this herbicide gets purged from the
environment," Taam said.
In the meantime, Norcal is trying to figure out what to do with its tons
of tainted compost. The company sells its compost for $7 to $10 per
cubic yard. So far, it has only sold 7,000 cubic yards of the tainted
material and is looking for alternative markets, Prunty said.
Prunty said he doesn't know when Norcal will be able to begin accepting
yard waste again. And he declined to say whether he believes Norcal will
remain economically viable at the Colbert facility.
"It's been difficult to move the product and that is essential to us
being successful here," he said.
Norcal operates two other composting facilities in California.
The herbicide problem is the latest in a series of problems plaguing the
The Solid Waste System recently settled a suit from area homeowners over
foul odors emanating from the facility. The system was required to pay
homeowners $1.5 million and buy them out of 15 houses.
As a result of the suit, the system switched contractors and selected
Norcal, which uses an "ag bag" technology that encloses the compost in
plastic. The former contractor cured the material in the open.
When Norcal received complaints last summer from neighbors about the
continuing odor, it improved its ventilation practices and added wood
chips to the debris to diffuse the odor.
.Wendy Harris can be reached at (509) 459-5433 or by e-mail at