Compost facility clears first hurdle

A Renewable Carbon facility in Sandoval County, N.M. 

A proposed compost facility, west of Volcanoes Stadium, took a small step forward in a meeting of the Keizer Planning Commission Jan. 13.

Commissioners recommended adding compost facilities to the approved uses in industrial zones with an 6-1 vote. Commissioner Frank Hostler did not give a specific reason for his dissent but, earlier in the meeting, questioned the proposed placement of the facility near Labish Creek/Ditch and the potential for harmful runoff.

Keizer’s city council will still need to approve the change.

The inventor of the in-container compost technology and a managing partner in the business seeking approval, spoke to Commissioners during the meeting about his hopes for a Keizer facility as a proof-of-concept.

“We want to prove we can be a good neighbor in an industrial zone instead of being relegated to agricultural lands,” said Jim McNelly, managing partner of Renewable Carbon, LLC, based in St. Cloud, Minn.

McNelly said he preferred working with local planning boards to county boards as “local boards tend to be more business-oriented.”

A Keizer facility could start as small as six to eight acres with approximately two dozen containers and grow to 12 acres with 60-70 containers if it proves successful. At full capacity, the facility could produce roughly 60 tons of compost per day for the wholesale market with revenues of about $2 million annually.

The composting itself would take place in containers attached to biofilters designed to eliminate the odors often associated with the composting process.

“Typically, we use dry wood or bark that absorbs the ammonia-laden air and filters it back into the composting process,” McNelly said.

Commissioner Mark Caillier asked for more information about equipment failures at other facilities. McNelly responded that there are gaskets and hoses that need to be replaced, but the company had avoided catastrophic failures. Renewable Carbon’s oldest locations have been in operation more than 25 years.

“We’ve never had a failure of the drains as long as the operator hooks up the hose,” McNelly said.

Leachate, water that is used to aid in the compost process, is also captured and reused.

That didn’t allay Hostler’s misgivings.

“I’m concerned about it being in the watershed and adding to traffic in Keizer Station. There’s a lot of gray area here,” Hostler said.

Commissioners Jeremy Grenz said that the compost facility sounded like a better option than some of those already permitted in the site.

“Pulp and paper, among others, are some that are already allowed. We wouldn’t have the opportunity to set conditions with some of those outright uses the way we will get to in this process,” Grenz said.

Commissioner Jeffrey Watson said there was nothing that made him more nervous about the compost facility than the already-approved uses.

“I’m willing to remove this barrier and trust that there are enough other stakeholders that can raise concerns as needed,” Watson said.

Phil Martin & Associates, of Bend, is consulting with Renewable Carbon on the approval process.