A commercial mushroom farm based in Olympia, Washington has identified northeast Oregon as the ideal location for stewing compost, though neighbors are worried about what the smell will mean for their property values and quality of life.

Ostrom Mushroom Farms wants to build a composting facility along Sand Hollow Road between Adams and Athena, where it would make the fertilizer needed to grow a variety of edible mushrooms including white, portabella and shiitake.

The proposal was laid out at a community meeting Wednesday night in Athena, where Ostrom’s president and CEO David Knudsen explained how the process works. Ostrom’s uses wheat straw, chicken manure, canola meal and water in its compost, later adding in the fungus to grow mushrooms.

All of the composting is done indoors, within tunnels that resemble silage bunkers, where the material is left to decompose and pasteurize. That’s what Ostrom’s wants to do in rural Umatilla County, on private land owned by the King family where Knudsen said the company already sources its wheat straw.

“This is the source of our primary raw material,” Knudsen said.

While the compost would be made locally, the mushrooms themselves would be grown and harvested at another farm with access to natural gas, Knudsen said. If built, the composting facility would produce 180 tons every week.

Composting is done over three phases — first, the raw materials are mixed and left to decay on an aerated floor. Second, the concoction naturally heats up and turns a chocolate brown color as it is pasteurized. Finally, workers mix in the mycelium, or mushroom cultures, which take two weeks to colonize.

Knudsen said the facility would start out with four tunnels and 15-17 employees, though future expansion could result in up to 10 tunnels. But before any of that can happen, Ostrom’s needs to obtain land use and environmental permits from the Umatilla County Planning Department and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

State law requires the company hold a public meeting prior to submitting its land use application, which took place Wednesday at Athena Elementary School. About 20 people attended the meeting, included neighboring landowners who voiced their concerns about odor, water use and increased traffic.

Knudsen did not hide the fact that composting is a stinky business, but said the smell would be intermittent and not a nuisance.

“We’re not trying to hide anything,” Knudsen said. “This is what we do, and we want to do it in a way that our neighbors aren’t offended.”

As it is, the company receives relatively few complaints about its composting facility on “Mushroom Corner” north of Olympia, an area much more densely populated than Adams or Athena. Robert Moody, compliance supervisor with the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, said they have received seven odor complaints about Ostrom’s since 2007.

However, Moody said most people who live near Ostrom’s are well aware of the smell by now and do not file complaints.

Knudsen said there is “no question” the company gets comments about odor, and they do everything they can to manage the smell. The entire process is aerated, he added, and nothing is left to become anaerobic.

The composting facility would be zero-discharge, Knudsen said, with wastewater stored in a large holding pond and recycled. Since the mushrooms are grown at a separate farm, he said there will be some increased traffic but expects no more than six trucks a week.

Bob Waldher, senior planner with the Umatilla County Planning Department, said they are still waiting on an application from Ostrom’s for a conditional use permit. He anticipates there will be a land use hearing before the planning commission on March 23.

Once the county determines land use compatibility, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will examine the project and decide whether to issue a compost facility permit. Jamie Jones, natural resource specialist with DEQ’s solid waste program, said they will consider everything from the size of the facility to potential nuisance odors and water management.

Knudsen said they have spent the last two years searching far and wide for a new location to expand their facilities.

“If there is a right location for a composting facility, this is it,” he said.

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Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0825.

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