Grow Compost. Photo: Rachel Goff

When those appointed to regulate odor complaints regarding Grow Compost facilities in Moretown were asked what scientific methods they are using to assess odors, they replied, “This is what you’re looking at – it’s our noses.”

An October 29 letter from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) proposed a solution for the town’s frustration with a lack of state-level regulation for odor complaints that have arisen about the Grow Compost facilities.

DEC commissioner Alyssa Schuren wrote that the DEC and the town were encouraged to “develop an informal means to identify odor concerns” and acknowledged that the town “does not have a direct regulatory role.”

On Monday, November 16, the Moretown Select Board discussed this informal regulation process with John Wakefield and Matt Chapman of the DEC, who are acting as odor claim investigator and general counsel, respectively.

Wakefield explained that he tries to arrive at the scene of an odor complaint as quickly as possible and has even offered his services after hours, as many complaints are voiced in the evenings. He said that he uses a one- to five-point odor scale and tries to have two DEC staff members confirm the odor.

Board members were concerned about how odor violations could be enforced “if it comes down to nothing more than your nose.” But Wakefield has never been able to confirm an odor, acknowledging that “there is no real technology that we could use.”

Chapman said that if they detected a pattern of odor complaints, which must be posted on a public log, “It could stand up in an enforcement case.” He said that they would first work with Grow Compost to create a corrective plan.

Moretown Planning Commission chair Jonathan Siegel suggested that the DEC inquire about Grow Compost’s scheduling of pile-turning and periods when they add new compostable materials to piles. Perhaps odors arise when these activities are performed and one board member agreed, “That would be a significant thing to know, I would think.”

The select board’s work with the DEC on Grow Compost comes after Moretown settled its lawsuit against the Agency of Natural Resources over the decertification of Grow Compost as a solid waste facility. Moretown brought suit this summer when the state agreed to Grow Compost’s request to be decertified as a landfill. Moretown, Grow Compost and the state negotiated a temporary solution to the issue of odor at Grow Compost and will reassess whether the facility will need new state certification or oversight in the future.