Intervale says composting operation is clean, should continue for another five years

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(Host) A controversial composting facility in Burlington wants a state permit to operate for another five years.

Engineering consultants hired by the Intervale Center say the composting operation has not polluted surface or ground water in its 15 years of operation.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) In Burlington’s Intervale – a flood plain area of the Winooski River – seagulls circle over head as earth movers stack steaming compost into lengthy windrows.

This is the state’s largest composting operation.

Composting is considered an environmentally healthy way to handle organic waste. Bacteria break the waste down into a nutrient-rich material that works as a great natural fertilizer.

But the Intervale operation drew attention from state environmental officials last summer. They alleged that Intervale Compost Products had violated a number of regulations, including allowing contaminated water onto nearby farm fields.

Kit Perkins, the executive director of the Intervale Center, says recent studies have concluded that the composting operation is safe for the environment.

(Perkins) “We’re doing what we intended to be doing, which is to recycle waste and turn it into a positive asset that can build soils in Vermont. And we’re doing it in a way that is not – according to these studies – adversely impacting surface or ground water. So that’s a huge relief. First time I’ve been relieved in a long time.”

(Dillon) Perkins held a news conference to announce the result of the studies – and to say that the Intervale Center wants to renew its state solid waste permit for another five years.

She said the non-profit Intervale Center spent about $100,000 to look at the operation’s environmental impact.

Craig Heindel is a hydrogeologist who sampled ground water near the site.

(Heindel) “And the water quality analyses that we evaluated from those groundwater samples indicated that there are no ground water impacts from this site. No metals, no landfill indicators, or other kind of solid waste facility indicators, no bacteria, no organic compounds, no pesticides, no PCBs.”

(Dillon) George Crombie, the state’s Natural Resources secretary, said last fall that the compost facility may need to move from the Intervale. He remains skeptical.

(Crombie) “It’s still the message. I mean, we have just gotten the study. We haven’t had the opportunity to look at it.”

(Dillon) Crombie says he’s a big fan of composting. But he says there are other issues at the Intervale that need to be addressed, such as the operation’s impact on Native American archaeological sites.

(Crombie) “So there are many things out there, and what I wanted to convey was that leave your options open, because that site may not be viable in the future and it’s important that we continue to prosper and have composting in the state of Vermont.”

(Dillon) But Perkins at the Intervale Center says in the past 15 years the organization has taken an area littered with trash and junked cars and transformed it into a breadbasket for the city.

She says she’s focused on making sure the composting operation satisfies all the state’s permit requirements.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.


VPR Photos/John Dillon: Machines work on compost piles on Monday at Intervale Compost.

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