Northwest NEWS

October 4, 1999

Front Page

Pacific Topsoil move arouses neighbors' fears


Connie Rogers (left) and Corrinne Hensley recently walked the borders of the wetland.
Photo by Greg Stephens.

by Marshall Haley, staff reporter

   MALTBY--Some 70 Woodinville and Maltby residents along Cutthroat Creek met in Maltby Hall, Sun., Sept. 26, to organize a protest they voiced to the Snohomish County Planning Commission on Sept. 28.

   They claim Pacific Topsoil's composting operation will not only ruin the quality of life for homes around the site, but also significantly damage forest and wetland that comprise the headwaters of the creek, which feeds directly into Little Bear Creek. They fear the business will kill Cutthroat Creek and dirty Little Bear Creek.

   Pacific Topsoil spokesman Jim Lindsay said the company has operated in Mill Creek on property that has Penny Creek running through three wetland areas, each of which "make that (Maltby site) wetland look like a little pond." Lindsay said their operation has so many safeguards that the manure-contaminated water, which they continuously recycle through holding tanks to moisturize their compost, has never even overflowed into their built-in sewer connection pipe, let alone seep into the ground.

   The Maltby composting site has an identical setup, according to Snohomish County. That site has already been issued its solid waste permit to operate after passing stringent permit inspections by Snohomish County's Health District and Planning & Development Dept., state Dept. of Ecology's Solid Waste and Water Quality divisions, the Cross-Valley Water Dist., and Metro. They also first had to receive a hydraulic permit from the state Dept. of Fisheries.

   "We have thousands of gallons of holding tanks that have never filled to capacity, and we mix all our compost on seven-inch thick concrete pads that have cupped edges to keep water from getting into the ground," said Lindsay. "We inspect those areas daily for spills."

   "Our lives have already been impacted by all the dust and noise from their dump trucks," said Woodinville resident Marc Horsch, who lives in the Marwood Place subdivision a few hundred feet down the creek from Pacific Topsoil's property. "When they move their composting operation in, the stench will be so bad I'm looking at probably selling our house before we lose our property value."

   "Pacific Topsoil was in Mill Creek long before there was a Mill Creek," Lindsay replied. "Our current site has no forested buffer zone (as does the Maltby site), but that hasn't slowed the building of hundreds of very expensive homes right up to our boundaries."

   Lindsay, a property development manager contracted by Pacific Topsoil three years ago to find and prepare a new site in Snohomish County, said the citizen group is not basing their fears in fact. He said he was shocked to see the protesters at that meeting, since he had not heard a single complaint from Horsch or anyone else during the two years he has spent preparing Pacific's new home.

   "At that meeting, I told the planning commission I would be happy to sit down and talk with anyone about any concerns they might have," said Lindsay. "So far, I've received no phone calls from any of them. We are under strict monitoring for air pollution by both the Snohomish County Health District and the Puget Sound Air Quality Agency (PSAQA). PSAQA issues big fines for any air quality violations, and they have not fined us."

   Lindsay said Snohomish County Health District's monthly monitoring has found no violation of pollution on their site.

   "Are people complaining about Pacific Topsoil moving to Maltby?" asked Jeff Defenbach of the Health District. "That surprises me, because that was a very public process, involving Pacific Topsoil's permit to compost. We published newspaper ads and held public hearings. I can't recall anybody voicing any protest about their relocation."

   "I am not aware of any odor complaints over the last operating season, and only two the year before," Defenbach said when asked about Pacific's record at their current site. "Compare that to Cedar Grove's composting operation in King County, which received hundreds of complaints last year, that I know of, and maybe into the thousands.

   "Our department's primary concern with composting operations concerns leachate seeping into the groundwater. Pacific Topsoil went to great expense, both at Bothell and Maltby, to run sewer connections to their site (to protect against contaminated water overflow from holding tanks), and we don't require sewer hookups."

   Local community activist Corinne Hensley is concerned that the fill Pacific put on the 14-acre composting site will put leachate into the wetland feeding Cutthroat Creek. Snohomish County required Pacific to maintain a 50-foot buffer where their site borders the Class II wetland. Pictures taken by Hensley's group show a 12-foot elevation from the top of the fill to the previous ground level, about six feet from the edge of the buffer zone surrounding the wetland.

   "From my research experience, they should require at least a 150-foot buffer, although the law only requires a maximum 75 feet for a Class I wetland," said Hensley. "With a sloping, impervious industrial landscape like Pacific's filled site, 50 feet is not enough to protect the wetland. The runoff from the bare dirt they've hauled in has already seeped under the 'silt fence' they put on the buffer border. The silt fence is supposed to filter impurities to prevent muddying of waters, but one end of the wetland is already impacted."

   John Roney, Public Service Coordinator for the county's Planning & Development Dept., said Pacific has complied with all permit requirements for erosion control at the Maltby site, and the county will continuously monitor the site.

   Tim Barnett of Snohomish County praised Pacific's erosion control record, saying, "Their track record has gotten significantly better in the past 10 years, and they have had no violations on record. I attribute that in large part to Jim Lindsay. He is a very straightforward individual. When he says he's going to do something, he does it. He's been very pleasurable to work with."

   Hensley said their protest surprised Lindsay because she knew of no reason to complain until last week when she saw Pacific's request that the Planning Commission amend the Maltby UGA (Urban Growth Area) to change the zoning for the 36 acres from R-5 (single residence on 5-plus acres) to "light industrial."

   That 36 acres includes the wetland. Pacific submitted a schematic for the 36 acres to the county in November of 1997 that showed a road completely around the wetland and as many as seven production areas. Those would include two tailing recovery areas (processed wood chips), a large bark pile, and a concrete/asphalt/brick recycling area.

   Hensley said removing almost 20 acres of forest surrounding the wetland will dramatically increase unfiltered runoff into the wetland, muddy Cutthroat Creek, and impact the Chinook in Little Bear Creek. Last week, she walked the borders of that acreage with Connie Rogers, who lives on its west border, and technical photographer Greg Stephens. Stephens did a laser survey of all the land around the property's red tags, which she thought signified the buffer border. Hensley said their pictures show that many yards of wetland extended outside most of the red tags, in the proposed road and production areas.

   "When we improperly buffer our smaller streams--the extremities of our river systems--the larger drainage system no longer functions properly," said Hensley. "The salmon spawn in Little Bear Creek and Cutthroat Creek. Fingerlings go farther up the smaller creeks. As the smaller creeks get muddied, the fingerlings are driven into the larger rivers where they get eaten by predators like Bull Trout (Dolly Varden)."

   Lindsay said her assumption about the red tags was incorrect, which he could have easily told her if she had simply asked him. He also disagrees with Hensley's insinuation that Pacific would be endangering salmon.

   "Those red tags mark the edge of the wetland and the beginning of the buffer zone, not the beginning of our production areas, as she assumed," he said. "We know we can't bury a wetland. I've been in this business for many years, and I probably know as much about environmental impact requirements than anyone in this area. The county required us to choose a biologist from their approved list to classify the wetland and survey its boundaries. We spent $20,000 to hire one of their biologists, and he set the boundaries. The ESA does not list Cutthroat Creek as a habitat for Chinook salmon. What Corinne forgot to tell you is that most of the winter source for that wetland comes from two large drain pipes which collect untreated runoff from the surrounding neighborhoods and the Maltby industrial area. Why haven't they protested that?"

   Apparently, the citizen protest had an effect. At a study session last Thursday night, Sept. 30, the Planning Commission voted 6-1 to recommend that the County Council deny Pacific's rezoning request for the 36 acres.

   "We need to find a home," said Lindsay. "We voluntarily moved from Mill Creek in deference to the high-density residential sprawl that grew to us. I chose this site from five criteria: proximity to our market; most of our 300 employees live in this part of Snohomish County; it's close to a freeway; it provides a forested, visual, and sound buffer zone; it is located next to many other recycling businesses. This is the only site big enough for us in the light industrial zoning under the Maltby UGA. It also borders the Burlington-Northern tracks, which will allow us to significantly reduce truck shipments to Pierce and Kitsap counties.

   "The same people that complain about us use our products in their front and back yards. The yard waste that magically disappears from their curb comes here. We recycle brush and stumps into wood chips. They buy our compost in bags from nurseries. Many of the flower pots and garden bricks they buy come from our recycling of bricks and concrete. Most of the infield surfaces in Puget Sound ballfields come from brick and glacial clay we recycle, after developers scrape it off their sites and bring it to us. We have 14 satellite outlets for our products in the four-county area, including Kenmore and Redmond.

   "People need to remember that before yard waste recycling started, most of the two million cubic yards of yard waste we bring in and out of our facility every year used to go into landfill. What did that do to the aquifer? We take an average of 30 yards per month to the dump, mostly plastics."