Study to look at how best to move green waste into pest-free zones
Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a two-part series about PacifiClean Environmental of Washington and its plans to operate a composting facility in Quincy.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture in the coming weeks will begin a risk assessment to help determine how best to move unprocessed yard and food waste into apple maggot free areas without endangering the multi-billion dollar apple industry.
The risk assessment will be completed with the help of scientists and pest experts and may take up to six months to complete, said Kirk Robinson, deputy director of the WSDA.
The announcement of the risk assessment comes after PacifiClean Environmental of Washington, which is operating at Ovenell Farms in Quincy, began hauling yard and food waste (called green waste) from Seattle in June to its local facility.
PacifiClean later suspended its operation in July after state inspectors discovered apple maggot larvae at the newly opened site. The company is waiting for a determination from WSDA that the apple maggot season has ended to begin operations again, said Ryan Leong, general manager of PacifiClean.
The apple maggot season typically ends in late September or early October.
PacifiClean is the first and only company in the state to receive a special permit from the WSDA to transfer unprocessed municipal green waste from an apple maggot quarantine area into a pest-free area; the permit was issued after nearly a year of working with state agencies and fruit industry representatives, Leong said.
While the company’s special permit was an important milestone to ensure mitigation would be implemented to protect the tree fruit industry, it also led to some unexpected challenges, Leong said. Over the past several months the company has received much attention that was fueled by “misinformation and heightened sensitivities,” said Leong.
From communications with the tree fruit industry, local growers and others in the community, it’s become clear there is concern about the Quincy facility, and the composting industry in general, regarding the management of green waste from quarantine areas, Leong said.
“Really, the issue was broader than us,” he added.
PacifiClean welcomes the state’s risk assessment, Leong said. These past several months, it’s also become clear among all concerned parties, both in the apple and compost industries, that more scientific evidence is needed for both sides when determining the best mitigation practices, he said.
“It has now become more apparent that there needs to be a defined set of protocol (from the state),” he said.
Most of Eastern Washington is free of apple maggot, a pest that bores into the fruit, turning it brown and mushy. The region’s pest-free status is a big advantage for fruit companies here, which face no restrictions on selling their fruit to foreign markets.
The maggot is present in Spokane and in most of Western Washington. A quarantine has been imposed on those areas and restrictions applied to prevent the maggot from spreading.
Robinson said the state decided to complete a risk assessment that evaluates the movement of green waste, and the risks and mitigation associated with them, for two reasons.
In the last one to two years, as more cities are adopting recycling programs, the state has seen an increase in the amount of municipal green waste, which is a good thing, Robinson said. He expects to see more interest from companies such as PacifiClean.
However, this past summer, the state also has seen an increase in the number of pests (apple maggots and others), he said.
A WSDA apple maggot survey for select Eastern Washington counties shows that this year there were 29 apple maggot detections in pest-free areas, including 12 detections in Chelan County, seven in Okanogan County and one in Grant County. From 2009 to 2014, there have been 47,634 traps set in Eastern Washington counties to detect the apple maggot, with 554 catches, according to the WSDA.
Along with PacifiClean, two other composters who are hauling yard and food waste into the pest-free areas have agreed to suspend their operations for the time being at the recommendation of the WSDA, Robinson said. Those composters are Royal Organics in Royal City and Natural Selection in Yakima County.
The suspension of activity at PacifiClean alone will cost the Quincy facility about $250,000 a month in lost revenues, or about $1 million, Leong said. Several employees, from sorters on the line to truck drivers hauling the waste across the state, also have seen their hours eliminated, Leong said.
PacifiClean has invested about $6 million in its state-of-the-art processing line as well as an additional $2 million in infrastructure and investment costs, Leong said. On top of that, the company is looking at building a $1 million steel structure that will enclose the processing line, containing all incoming waste until it is processed and ground.
Plans for the building have been drawn up and approved by the state; however, PacifiClean won’t start building the structure until the state’s risk assessment is completed, Leong said. If the state can complete its study by late March, the building could be done by the end of May.
Despite the recent setbacks for the company, PacifiClean is interested in working out a solution that protects the tree fruit industry it wants to serve, Leong said.
“We’re here. We want to figure this out,” he said. “We want to finish our mission.”
“We’re here to work with the tree fruit industry and the ag industry to produce a high value product,” agreed Gregg Ovenell of Ovenell Farms.
Next week: Learn the detailed steps that PacifiClean will take when moving green waste from the apple maggot quarantine area to its facility in Quincy.
— By Jill FitzSimmons, email@example.com