By REBECCA HAZEN
The Dade County Special Use Permit Board held a meeting Feb. 25, to consider the permit application by NewTerra Compost, LLC.
“The application is for the establishment of a composting operation, on Hummingbird Lane on a 20 acre field. The composting has actually been going on prior to the permit, which was not contemplated by the ordinance for issuing permits, so we’ll just have to deal with that,” Chair Allan Townsend said.
Normand Lavoie and Michael Ryan, owners of NewTerra Compost, prepared a presentation for the board members and attendees.
Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter.
Ryan and Lavoie use the continuous aerated static pile method of composting. Wood chips are put on the food waste. Air is pumped from pipes, which are under the piles, to make it decompose and turn it into compost. The piles are monitored for temperature.
“Why should we compost? It reduces our waste stream, cuts methane emissions from landfills, improves soil health and lessens erosion, conserves water and reduces personal food waste,” Ryan said.
“Our mission is to make it easy for residential and commercial customers to divert their food residuals from the landfill and create a soil amendment product that goes back to farmers and gardeners in the local community. Our mission is to educate the public on the need for composting and advocate for schools, businesses and city/county governments to get involved in the process,” Lavoie said.
NewTerra Compost operates under a Permit by Rule, which is used by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to give operating parameters to restrict risk and damage that could be done by a facility.
The Permit by Rule states that all incoming food residuals must be processed the day they arrive. Storage of compost is limited to 12 months. Suitable control measures for odors and vectors are required, and notice of closure must be provided to EPD within 60 days of final receipt.
After the presentation, the board, Ryan and Lavoie heard from board members and citizens.
Townsend asked how much material is being collected each week, and if meat takes longer to decompose than vegetation.
NewTerra Compost collects about 5,000 pounds a week from both residential and commercial customers. Ryan noted that the meat will decompose in the first 14 days at the same rate as everything else. The whole composting process takes 45 days, after which the compost cures.
It was noted that all of NewTerra Compost’s commercial customers are located in the Chattanooga area. There are residential customers from Dade County, but no commercial customers yet.
Nathan and Lori Tomblin, who live on Hummingbird Lane, addressed the board and Lavoie and Ryan.
“We fell in love with our property … but now you’ve come in. It’s your land, but it does affect us. My living room window, my dining room, my kitchen, my front porch view, looks out at it. If we decide to sell that house, no one is going to see it as the wonderful things you describe it as. They are going to see piles of Chattanooga’s garbage, garbage cans and dumpsters. The only thing we can do is build a hedge and hope for the future that everything is good. I’m not against it, but imagine your house with that in front of it,” Nathan said.
Lori listed the commercial businesses that are customers of NewTerra Compost. “You have to understand, all of that is coming in my front yard. That’s all coming from Chattanooga. You’re saying it’s not a dump, it’s not garbage, but restaurants don’t put their garbage dumpster out in front of the restaurant either. It’s in front of my house,” Lori said.
Dr. Bill Pullen had some concerns about NewTerra Compost and brought forth some questions.
“Are there any certifications, examinations, any education required to run this? What, if any, are you limiting tonnage to? What is the cap on how much you are going to handle? … When you’re giving out the finished project, can you can go in there and find fungus and bad bacteria? Is there any testing for the finished project?” Pullen asked.
Dorris Shober, owner of Lupi’s Pizza and a customer of NewTerra Compost, as well as a Dade County farmer, said that she is a huge proponent for reducing food waste.
“The concern about everything coming from Chattanooga, we’re all living on the same earth. The environment doesn’t have state lines,” Shober said.
Shober continued, “They have crossed every “t” and dotted every “I.” They want to do things right. I ask that you all do the right thing and be stewards of the earth.”
Suzanna Alexander is an organic farmer with her husband, and they also compost.
“When we heard about this, we thought, ‘Oh wow, Dade County is progressing. I am extremely frustrated right now. I see the potential for something wonderful in Dade County, but it is being screwed up because people come in trying to do something good and then get punished because we don’t have a system that says ‘We have people on the end of this road that maybe don’t want this,’” Alexander said.
Alexander continued, “I think the county should be supporting this … I am also a homeowner though, and I cherish my land. I am angry at our county that did not listen and prevent this early on, to have land where this could occur. I don’t know what we can do to mediate this.”
Richard Doyle, Ryan’s cousin, also shared some of the same concerns as a property owner. His mother’s property joins the business’ property, which is owned by Ryan.
“What is our property going to be worth? I am 100 percent for your business, but not in an old established neighborhood. I would like to ask the county, what can be done to keep businesses like this coming into neighborhoods,” Doyle said.
Randy Pullen has property bordering on two sides of the NewTerra Compost property. Pullen noted that there is a pond on his property, and he was concerned about the pond.
Pullen showed a video recording of water draining across property lines, which flows directly to the pond.
“I take my son down there and go fishing. I don’t want to have to worry about whether the fish are safe to eat anymore,” Pullen said.
It was noted by Lavoie that the board members were provided an article about a study that showed that water runoff from food residuals is safe.
Other concerns and ideas that were brought up included the presence of coyotes, the possibility of concealing the equipment, and trying to find a new location.
At the end of the meeting, Ryan’s mother, Polly Ryan, addressed everyone.
“As the landowner, we tried to sell that property on numerous occasions. Nobody wanted it because of the power line. We are using it in a way that helps the environment. We thought we were doing the right thing,” she said.
Allan Townsend noted that the board has up to 60 days to decide whether or not to issue the permit. A second meeting will be held at a later date, to be determined.