Permit disputed for Richmond's 'stinky' compost facility

Harvest Power, a compost facility in Richmond, is appealing an air quality permit issued by Metro Vancouver saying its conditions are too vague. Meanwhile, Richmond residents near the plant say they want the whole thing closed.

Facility and local residents both appealing air quality permit, but for different reasons

Richmond residents have filed thousands of complaints over the last few years, but Metro Vancouver says the number of complaints has dropped dramatically in 2017. (Stop the Stink in Richmond/Facebook)

An air quality permit issued to Harvest Power, a Richmond, B.C. compost facility, is being appealed by a group of area residents and the facility itself, but for different reasons. 

Harvest Power processes much of the Lower Mainland's organic waste.

Residents have complained for years about the plant's smell, but Metro Vancouver issued a new three-year air quality permit to the company in September with conditions it said would address the concerns of nearby residents.

A "sniff test" is among those conditions. The facility will be required to shut down if there are complaints of bad smells more than five kilometres from the facility for more than four days over a two week period.

Conditions 'not scientific enough'

In its notice of appeal, Harvest Power argued the Metro Vancouver region has no jurisdiction to issue permits for its facility because the facility is on federal land.

The company further argues that even if Metro had jurisdiction, the sniff test is too vague and unscientific. 

In 2015, Harvest Power processed 248,000 tonnes of organic waste in 2015 and made 180,000 cubic metres of compost that same year. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Stephen Bruyneel, a spokesman for Harvest Power, said the company is not attempting to shirk responsibility, adding that the appeal process ensures the rules are clear and fair.

"We certainly understand that [residents] concerns are about the odour and they want the odour to go away as soon as possible. We're doing everything that we can to address that. But from a permit point of view, we want to make sure what we're held accountable for is scientific. That's why we're working towards that," he said.

He also said the company is implementing a number of other odour-reducing initiatives in the meantime.

'Manure mixed with chemical'

A number of locals have also registered their own separate appeal to the board, arguing for the permit to include even stricter restrictions or a total shutdown.

Joanne Charity, a Richmond resident for 28 years, describes the plant's smell as "manure mixed with chemical."  She says the odour makes her nauseous, and wants the plant shut down.

"For me, this is a public nuisance. I can't go out and enjoy the outdoors. I can't go for a walk in it. It makes me literally sick to my stomach. I just want the stink to go away."

She's planning to lead a protest at Richmond City Hall on Saturday.

A long, complicated process

Ray Robb, manager of environmental regulation and enforcement at Metro Vancouver, said appeals of this kind are relatively rare although he's not surprised at the turn of events.

"This is impacting so many people in such a huge way," he said. "It's an important issue ... so we're going to deal with it."

​"We issued a permit that we think does what it should," he said. "We will defend all of those clauses and the company will attack many of them. The residents will either say those requirements aren't tough enough or the permit should not have been issued."