Frustration with the rotten smell hanging over Stanfield came to a head Tuesday as the city council unanimously approved a motion directing city staff to fine 3D Idapro Solutions and seek a court order to shut down the company’s dehydration plant.
In a free-wheeling meeting that often involved multiple citizens talking over each other at once, more than two dozen residents packed into council chambers and demanded to know why the city had not shut down 3D Idapro Solutions already or prohibited them from coming into Stanfield in the first place.
City manager Blair Larsen explained multiple times that he hadn’t taken those actions because he did not feel the city was legally allowed to do so, but others in the room — including Mayor Thomas McCann — weren’t having it.
“Nobody in their right mind should have to put up with that in their city,” McCann said. “Shut it down until you’ve got it fixed and approved. If people are working out there, they’re going to be talented enough to find other work. They’re not going to be left destitute.”
The company employs 40 people, including 13 Stanfield residents, according to a letter Larsen read from vice president of operations Mark Johnson.
In the letter Johnson explained that a fire in February had burned up the plant’s scrubber used to mitigate odors and the new one rushed into use had turned out to be inadequate. He said the company has hired engineers to custom-build a new system that should reduce the problem once it is in place by November. In the meantime, the company has taken multiple steps to reduce odor by rerouting trucks, bringing in higher-quality potato waste and only storing the raw materials on site for one day before processing.
Residents, however, said those measures didn’t seem to be helping. Some reported the stench had triggered asthma attacks or vomiting in people they knew. Others said it was an embarrassment during the spring when rival sports teams had commented on the rotten aroma. McCann said he knew of two families that were trying to sell their homes and move out of town due to the odor, and a woman said the smell had made it “the worst summer of my life.”
Leland Winebarger brought newspaper clippings about the 3D Idapro’s operations in Burley, Idaho. One, from May 2013, reported the DEQ was investigating odor complaints against the company’s plant. A second, from February 2016, reported that the city had filed a criminal complaint against 3D Idapro for misdemeanor counts of non-permitted use and failure to conform to permitted use requirements.
“These people in Burley have been fighting this for three years now,” he said, asking why they should believe Johnson that things would get better.
Several residents told Larsen that he should have looked into the 3D Idapro’s history and then told them they could not operate in Stanfield. But Larsen said that since the company was operating on private land with the correct zoning and the proper permits, he didn’t see how the city could legally block them from opening a business in town.
“There was nothing in our laws that would let me say, ‘No, you can’t build that here,’” he said. “We have laws that respect property rights. You’re allowed to buy industrial property and do industrial things on it.”
Larsen denied one person’s accusation that he didn’t care about the problem because his family lives in Hermiston. He said he hadn’t started levying fines on the company for violating the nuisance ordinance because the company could decide it was easier to just pay the fines than spend money trying to fix the problem. But he said he would follow the directive of the council and use the city’s nuisance code to start levying fines.
Getting a judge to issue an injunction against the company, forcing it to “cease and desist” as the council voted to pursue, is more complicated. Lawsuits over odors do happen, but headlines from around the country indicate they’re generally brought by neighbors instead of cities. Larsen said he hasn’t taken that step so far because he has been trying to protect the city from being counter-sued.
Greg Svelund of the Department of Environmental Quality said he can only speak to the DEQ’s power, not individual cities’ or counties’ ordinances, but said the DEQ can’t just come in and shut down a plant immediately because residents have complained. The number of complaints about 3D Idapro’s Stanfield plant have reached a threshold that allows the department to act, he said, by requesting information from the company about possible causes of the smell and what they are doing to mitigate it. He said the company has done that and has submitted its plan to fix the problem. Now DEQ must give 3D Idapro a chance to implement the plan and show that it’s working to reduce the smell.
Industrial operations in Oregon are not required to be odor-free.
“What it comes down to is, is the company doing every reasonable thing it can with the type of operations they have to reduce odors?” Svelund said.
He said that if a company is complying with the plan it worked out with DEQ and is still producing strong odors, the problem could be referred to a special panel that could refer it to a years-long court process, but so far “Oregon has not gone down that path before.”
Odor complaints are not an unusual, even in Umatilla County.
Hermiston city manager Byron Smith said there is a municipal court hearing this week for the city to begin levying fines on an individual with a wet silage operation off Highway 207 that has been drawing complaints. He said giving due process under the law in such situations can be frustrating, as neighbors continue to deal with the nuisance in the meantime.
Stanfield city councilors told the audience Tuesday that although the bad smells might not go away immediately, they were committed to doing what they could.
“We want the smell to stop,” said councilor Jason Sperr, making a motion to fine 3D Idapro and look for a way to order the plant to “cease and desist.”
McCann said if the city can’t get the help it needs from the state level, it will turn to lawmakers at the federal level for help.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.