It all started out innocently enough and I think you are going to ” Like “ this.
I posted on the Sunshine Coast BC Canada facebook page that the air over Sechelt was so “putrid that it made me dry heave.”
That started off a firestorm of comments ( “Sechelt Raises a Stink” ) and the smell and commotion even got the attention of the local community newspapers.
What do you do with 4,000 tons of organic waste a year? Can you reuse it rather then throwing it away with the garbage into the Sechelt Landfill?
My blogging got the attention of Aaron Joe, Owner and CEO of Salish Soils in Sechelt who was emailed the “Sechelt Raises a Stink” article I wrote after the facebook uproar. This lead to a phone call and invitation from him to personally tour the composting facility.
Joining Aaron and myself where several consultants who are experts in composting and bio waste management, plus members of the Shishalh Council and a couple of passionate critics who are fed up with the odour.
The original plans for the Salish Soil site was a burn facility to address the ban on burning wood piles at housing construction sites.
Those plans fell through do to pollution concerns associated with burning, however all that bio waste where forests have been clear cut for urban sprawl was still was an issue. It lead Aaron to refocus on reclaiming and composting the waste into organic fertilizer.
It sounded all good, however there still was a glitch in the plans. Salish Soils could not get a local waste disposal company to partner with them which lead Aaron to turn to bio waste from a fish farm supplied by West Coast Fish Culture in Powell River, BC.
People have expressed concerns to me that the fish entrails are genetically modified organisms (GMO) and diseased. When posed this concern by Dionne Paul, a member of the Shishalh Nation, the reply was they would not accept diseased fish waste which is tested to comply with stringent regulations.
Basically what we learned on the tour is the fish waste is delivered and covered in a Gore cover system (gortex that breaths). It’s a pilot project that was required in the first stages of launching the business before proceeding any further with development.
After initial trial and error, with practice, the mixing process and Gore cover system has been reduced from taking a day to complete to just a couple hours.
What happens under this huge gore-tex tarp is the temperature of the fish waste is quickly taken up to 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) for four weeks. The microbes start to break down the waste mimicking natural processes on earth, however in a much accelerated time frame. A computer monitoring system ensures that the process runs efficiently.
The conditions under the tarp are aerobic (with oxygen) and not anaerobic (without oxygen). This makes a huge difference to the fumes released. The anaerobic process creates methane gases which are “22 times” worse then the aerobic method.
Salish Soils said the steam you see coming from the pile is “heat” and the odour released by the aerobic treatment is not toxic or harmful to the community. Just, well, kinda smelly.
It’s the same process as leaves or trees breaking down in nature, there is “no chemical difference.”
The bio process of breaking down the fish into fertilizer “kills everything” and ends with a “sterile” product.
According to Salish Soils, the quality of the end product is so good that the fertilizer sells for “twice the price” sold by other companies.
Aaron Joe said Salish Soils began with “humble beginnings” as a pilot to “heal” the LeHigh mine site that has removed the hillside overlooking Sechelt and Porpoise Bay Inlet. He added that he was born and raised in Sechelt for 40 years, this is his home and he is not trying to “piss people off.”
The entire operations could have been “outside” of any regulations being that it is self-governed by Shishalh. Aaron however did not want to go this route and insisted from day one that Salish Soils be fully compliant with Ministry of Environment (MOE) regulations and they work with local governments.
There are also two other possible sources of odour in the Sechelt area mentioned by my social media network friends, not including the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) next to the duck/beaver pond.
Sylvis fertilizes reclamation lands at the Lehigh Hanson mine in Sechelt with bio solids (yep that stuff).
SYLVIS is a leading Canadian environmental consulting and contracting firm with the sole core focus of beneficial use and management of residuals.
I spoke with John Lavery, Program Manager at Sylvis. John told me he had seen my blog article Sechelt Raises a Stink which was emailed to him also.
I asked John exactly how much is Sylvis willing to take responsibility for the smell over Sechelt?
He replied we don’t take “a lot of responsibility.” John said Sylvis has been been working with Lehigh for 10 years. During that time, on average, they get no complaints to one complaint a year.
This is because of a management plan Sylvis has developed in conjunction with Shishalh and Leghigh to mitigate any odour problems.
As an example, John said the company has partitioned spraying bio solids to the spring and fall season, with no work during the summer that would effect the tourism season. They also base the timing of operations on the climate, particularly if there are “off shore breezes” that would blow over Sechelt.
John further commented that Sylvis operates at a much further distance from the village, some 600-700 meters and up to 2km away.
Ashley Ahrens, who oversees the Sechelt operations for Sylvis offered to take me on a tour next week.
I also asked Norm Boning, the Owner of Direct Disposal the same question.
How much is Direct Disposal willing to take responsibility for the stink over Sechelt?
“None,” he said, “we keep our compost in 10ft by 200ft bags which creates zero smell.” Norm added the Direct Disposal composting facility is so far away from Sechelt village up by the landfill that it is not the source of the foul odor residents are complaining about.
Where Salish Soils “falls down” he said, is when they have to “peal the cover” off the fish entrails.
Dionne Paul and her husband William Baturin, live with their five children a couple minutes downwind of Salish Soils, and her family (and neighbours) have smelled the offensive odour first hand for 2 years now. The smell is so bad during hot summer nights they can’t even open their windows and are forced to endure the “sweltering heat without a refreshing cool evening breeze.”
She joined us on the tour with her husband. They both had some tough questions for Salish Soils and their consultants. Dionne felt some questions were answered and some questions were skirted around or answered with “I don’t know.”
Dionne feels the company still had a lot of work to do and she remains skeptical about the new “Gore cover” system due to the sister system in Chemainus. The Salish Soils reps stated “there are only two composting companies in North American with this new gore cover system Chemainus and soon to be Salish Soils.”
The people near the Chemainus community have complained of awful odors according to Dionne. She states, in all fairness to Salish Soils “I do plan to set up a site visit to the Chemainus composting facility to see for myself what we can expect from this apparently new and improved gore covered system.”
I tried to find a website for “Chemainus Composting Inc” without success, just dozens of videos, article and news stories about local residents protesting the business stinks. Finally I was able to determine the company is owned by Coast Environmental however there is absolutely no mention of the composting aspect of their septic business on their website.
OK Here’s the good news. Congrats if you read this far!
Their new facility will be “100 times better,” said Aaron from Salish Soils.
This new facility will be the 2nd one in North America. It will be a fully covered Gore building (breathing fabric that traps 90 to 97% of odors) over a concrete foundation, including a bio filter air system that will result in almost “zero” smell.
The entire mixing and cooking operation will be inside this new building, which will receive 40 tons of fish annually. A new leachate system will trap and pipe waste water into containers and back to be reused over again, so it will not be dumped or contaminate the soil.
The facility will be fully regulated and tested, and cover 10 acres of land.
AND here is the clincher you’ve wanted to hear, the new buildings should be up and running in 2 months, so let’s say December or January 2013 if all goes according to plan.
Good news for Sechelt!
Aaron said his ambitions from the start was to create something that is green and sustainable that creates long lasting employment and income for Shishalh and the community.
Future plan is to have green waste from the community dropped off at Salish Soils rather then taken to the Sechelt Landfill.
Currently, the public drops off green waste at the Sechelt Landfill which is then trucked back to the composting facility and turned into fertilizer by mixing the fish waste and organic waste. Aaron says his plan is to lower the “carbon footprint” of the community by having the public come directly to Salish Soils first.
If that’s not ambitious enough, Salish Soils plans also include 5 acres of green houses, plus 25 acres of agricultural lands.
They also plan to convert the energy from composting to heat the green houses for growing food to make the Sunshine Coast food secure and self sufficient. Aaron already has commitments from local grocery stores who will sell the produce. This will greatly reduce the carbon footprint to transport food from the Vancouver mainland and around the world. It will include fruits and vegetables.
Aaron adds that Salish Soils has been and continues to strive for “organic certification” of its fertilizer. He expects this certification to happen soon.
Currently the company is working on a volunteer basis with Kinnikinnick Elementary School on a organic waste management project where the kids collect their food wastes and give it to Salish Soils who in turn give the finished fertilizer and soil back to the students to grow a garden with.
Overall, Dionne feels let down by “flimsy” provincial and federal regulations. She would like to be open minded and somewhat hopeful that this new gore covered building delivers what the reps of Salish Soils guaranteed: “reducing the VOC’S (volatile organic compounds) by 97%” so that her and her family can get back to life pre-Salish Soils.
“It would be wonderful to NOT be affected by these extremely offensive odors and I am sure Salish Soils and it’s 7 employee’s would like to carry on business as usual without our constant complaints. So, for everyone’s peace of mind, I hope this new system works! Only time will tell.”
She shared her concern with me about the question posed to the CEO Aaron Joe of Salish Soils “Does Salish Soils have any future plans to use bio-solids?” and the answer was “I don’t know.” Dionne then asked “If Salish soils does plan to start the use of bio-solids and/or sewage sludge at Salish Soils, and do they plan to notify the Sechelt Nation band members and other neighbours?” The answer was a head nod. She then asked “How do you plan to notify the people” and the CEO replied “anyway you like” and she replied “in person to my front door?” and he nodded.
After our tour I asked Dionne how she felt?
“What are we going to do if this new gore cover doesn’t work?” she asked me, “Well I will continue writing complaint letters and starting/signing petitions until the odour issue is resolved. I intend to lobby politicians to put the OMRR ( Organic Matter Recycling Regulations ) on the agenda for review and tighten up the regulations at a provincial and federal level.
“It is pointless to have recommendations regarding the OMRR, but no way to enforce them or to pass the jurisdiction buck,” she laughs. She knows this may take years and that in itself is not a deterrent.
Dionne conclude by saying she plans on “living here for the rest of my life after all.”
Here’s your chance to say what you think…. comment below. Posts are moderated.
I was very impressed with Salish Soils overall operation and vision for the future. Very exciting! I’m also thrilled to hear that a new containment facility is in the works and should be completed in the next couple months.
I have absolutely no animosity towards the company. I am an online social media editor, just like any other editor in the news media. I simply share and facilitate community dialogue.
I like many others simply have a common wish that the smell go away as soon as possible.
I wish Salish Soils all the very best and can’t wait to see all their dreams come true!
It’s Always a Good Day on the Sunshine Coast! Duane Burnett