Apple industry reps question why unprocessed green waste is heading east
Editor’s Note: See related story outlining the process PacifiClean Environmental will use to turn green waste transported from the Seattle area into compost for the ag industry.
Eager to show that their processes are safe and effective, officials with PacifiClean Environmental of Washington recently invited some apple industry representatives and local government officials to its Quincy site to walk them through their composting process.
That included how it plans to transport food and yard waste from Seattle to Eastern Washington, where it will be turned into compost.
At issue is the transportation of the green waste from an apple maggot-quarantined area to the pest-free Grant County.
Ryan Leong, general manager of PacifiClean, said he and Gregg Ovenell of Ovenell Farms have led four tours through the facility in the past couple of months. Among those who have taken the tour are legislators Tom Dent and Judy Warnick.
“You will not see anything like this at any other composter in the state,” Leong recently told a group from the City of Quincy that was touring the facility. “Maybe in the world.”
Among those who took the tour was Pat Connelly, Port of Quincy commissioner. Connelly called the facility a first-class operation. He also has faith that Ovenell Farms is trying to produce a top-notch product, he said.
However, Connelly said, he knows little about the apple maggot and its mitigation practices. PacifiClean in most recent months has drawn criticism from the apple industry.
“I can see it from both sides,” Connelly said. “One group is trying to create a product and the other is trying to protect their own product.”
After taking PacifiClean’s tour, local orchardist Kent Karstetter isn’t convinced PacifiClean can guarantee the safety of the apple industry. Karstetter, who went through the facility about four weeks ago, wants to see the processing site moved to the quarantined area, where the material came from.
“It’s wonderful machinery,” Karstetter said. “It’s in the wrong place.”
The Washington State Department of Agriculture soon will begin a risk assessment to help determine how best to move yard and food waste into apple maggot-free areas without endangering one of the state’s top industries. The science-based risk assessment may take until late March to complete.
PacifiClean is the first 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. It began hauling the waste in June to its local facility; however, PacifiClean later suspended its operation in July after state inspectors discovered apple maggot larvae at the newly opened site.
The Washington State Tree Fruit Association did not support the permit being given in June because it didn’t think the pest mitigation had been met, said Jon DeVaney, the association’s president.
“I can’t figure out why the WSDA let them have that permit,” Karstetter said. “Our futures hinge on this risk assessment.”
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 apple 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.
The state, in setting up the quarantined areas and its apple maggot program, has been bound by statute since 1980 to protect the apple industry, Karstetter said. The state can do that, in part, by forcing PacifiClean to move its processing facility to a quarantined area, he said.
Karstetter added that the apple industry doesn’t have a problem with the nutrient-rich compost that PacifiClean and its local partner, Ovenell Farms, is trying to make. The problem is in the location of that processing facility, he said.
Leong said there seem to be two questions or comments that continually come up when he talks to people about his business. Some people make the comment that the waste is a west-side problem, so it should stay there, Leong said. Others ask why the material cannot be pre-grinded on the west side, he added.
Leong countered that the issue of how to deal with the increasing green waste created by communities is not a west side versus east side issue. This is a statewide issue, and there are many reasons for cities to pursue alternative forms of waste processing, such as composting, Leong said.
As far as pre-grinding the material on the west side, Leong said the company wants control over its product to produce a top soil amendment for the tree fruit industry. Among the stops on the facility’s tour is a look at a pile of compost that was grinded prior to arriving at the Quincy site. The small non-combustibles left in the material makes it harder to decontaminate by hand or machine, so it is unusable, he said.
“So they are putting my business in jeopardy because they want to have a cleaner product?” Karstetter asked. “This would all go away if they did this in a quarantined area.”
One of the questions the state’s risk assessment must ask is if it’s even possible to do enough to mitigate the risks of damaging a $7.5 billion industry that provides 60,000 direct and indirect jobs, DeVaney said.
“Because you can only get it wrong once,” he said.
— By Jill FitzSimmons, email@example.com