Smelly composting controversy costs city $300,000 - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Smelly compost controversy costs city $300,000

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The locked compost facility. The locked compost facility.
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

It will cost the city of Cincinnati an estimated $300,000 to clean up a composting site they shut down in February due to odor complaints.

Composting is the process of taking food or other organic waste and recycling and is a more environmental friendly alternative to landfills. The company ‘Compost Cincy' says that is what they were trying to do while renting an old landfill site from the city, but after numerous odor complaints, the city shut them down and locked them out.

"It turned out to be an odor problem for the neighbors. That nuisance condition is not something we are going to consider acceptable so we just had to shut down the operation and look for a better alternative," said Larry Falkin, Director of Cincinnati's Office of Environment and Sustainability.

Falkin says the idea of the first centrally located composting facility in Cincinnati started out as a win-win for businesses, the city and the environment. Large commercial companies could send their waste to the old landfill site on Este Avenue where Compost Cincy would break it down and sell it. But demand for composting proved to be much bigger than they anticipated.

"They designed their operation for about 20,000 tons a year. I think at their peak they were receiving a rate more like 80,000 tons a year," said Falkin.

All that decomposing waste became a smelly problem for industrial neighbors so the city opted not to renew the lease.

"When the city had asked us to relocate in about April of 2013 we said sure we'll need help and adequate time to do that," said Grant Gibson, Owner of Compost Cincy.

Gibson says despite his need to find a new site, transport the material and maintain his business, the city refused to give him enough time to do it. They demanded the company leave the site by December 31, 2013. Due to the harsh winter, Gibson says the process of moving their material became difficult. Before they could clean up the site, the city locked the gate in February. He says the allegations that his company left a $300,000 stinky mess behind are unfounded.

"We are an environmental company. We care about the environment. Landfill diversion is our biggest initiative and for us to just spread two feet of material across the site, we would never do anything like that," said Gibson.    

Gibson blames the eviction on the city's poor zoning policies. While he admits some odor may have made it off site after heavy rainfalls due to the amount of waste they are processing, he doesn't believe that was reason enough for eviction. He believes if all parties (Compost Cincy, the city of Cincinnati and the industrial neighbors) had sat down together, a compromise could have been made.

But now it is the middle of July and the smell is still there. The city estimates it will take 3-4 months to clean up with an estimated $300,000 price tag.

"We will be asking city council to appropriate funds to enable us to do the cleanup," says Falkin.

He doesn't fault Compost Cincy in the closure calling it a lesson in high demand and not enough infrastructure.

The city claims they are prepared to file suit against Compost Cincy to recover costs. Gibson says he doesn't owe the city any money claiming the city allowed him to operate the first 6 months rent free, but due to all the controversy he is now in the process of closing his business.

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