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Who composted? 

After hundreds of neighbor complaints about smelly composting operations at Cold Canyon Landfill, the landfill operators are planning to shut down an 11-year-old recycling program.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) is forcing Cold Canyon to comply with state odor requirements by Oct. 3 in response to hundreds of neighbor complaints and three formal violations issued by the state.

According to landfill manager Tom Martin, compliance means absolutely no odors can escape from the composting operations, which he said is impossible. “Just to give you an idea of how crazy this is, one of the complaints that we got was for freshly ground green waste,” Martin said.

A CalRecycle inspection report referred to the smell as “freshly ground feed stock and finished compost.” But neighbors have referred to the odor as “dog poop,” “really gross,” and “the grossest smell I’ve ever smelled,” said Bruce Falkenhagen.

Neighbors have been complaining since Cold Canyon officials expanded the composting operations in 2004, Falkenhagen said. He began keeping an “odor log,” and neighbors have made at least one complaint per day, until the last two months when they averaged two complaints per day.

“To the people that say we’re nimbys, we have lived with this … and we are saying that they need to abide by their current permit conditions,” Falkenhagen said.

CalRecycle officials have been conducting monthly inspections in response to the complaints since February and issued the first violation to Cold Canyon in April.

“When there are complaints about odors, the Local Enforcement Agency—or in this case, CalRecycle—will visit the site to verify the odor, and if verified, note that on a violation report,” said CalRecycle spokesman Mark Oldfield.

Though CalRecycle hasn’t mandated the closure of composting at Cold Canyon, Martin said there’s no practical way to meet the state guidelines. Operators will instead shut down the existing operations and ship the material to Santa Maria.

It costs about $18 per ton to compost material at Cold Canyon but will cost about $45 per ton to truck the material out of county, Martin said. However, the ratepayer increase will likely be minimal, maybe 1.4 percent.

Cold Canyon is also in the environmental-review phase in a request to expand the landfill by 46 acres and, under the original application, to increase the composting from 300 to 450 tons per day.

“It’s a difficult balance, because you have a landfill that has been there for quite a while—I think longer than the residents.” said County Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes the landfill. “But they live there, and they have legitimate concerns.”

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