Richmond compost facility tries to clear the air at public meeting

At an occasionally contentious public meeting, the controversial compost facility Harvest Power acknowledged it could do a better job of listening to local residents.

Harvest Power CEO says the company takes responsibility for not being a good neighbour

The Harvest Power location in Richmond accepts yard trimmings, paper products and food waste to turn into compost. (CBC)

The controversial compost facility Harvest Power acknowledged at a public meeting Wednesday that it could do a better job of listening to residents in Richmond, B.C., who have been fuming about its fumes.

"I am here to take responsibility for Harvest not being a good neighbour," said Chris Kasper, the company's CEO. 

"The current site is unacceptable. We need to take responsibility for that."

Harvest Power has operated a facility in Richmond for years, taking food scraps, yard trimmings and paper products from across the Lower Mainland and turning them into mulch, soil and compost.

Nearby residents have increasingly complained about the odour emitted from the plant, but the situation came to a head when Metro Vancouver renewed its operating permit for another three years

The City of Richmond responded by asking the public to call Metro Vancouver's odour complaint hotline if anyone continued to smell the odour.

'It's kind of a mix of chemical and compost'

At Wednesday's public meeting, a number of nearby residents said the facility should be shut down completely, claiming the smell is so bad that some people have been forced to buy air purifiers.

However, Metro Vancouver says while the odours are bad enough for people to be irritated, they aren't considered a health risk. 

"I realize this was not the perfect solution," admitted Ray Robb, Metro Vancouver's environmental regulation and enforcement division manager.

But he says a new sniff test will be in place in the beginning of 2017 — and if officers notice odour for more than ten minutes on at least four days over a 14-day span, Harvest will be forced to stop accepting food waste.

"I've been dealing with odour for 25 years," said Robb. "I've learned how to draft a permit that has the greatest chance of success."

That was little solace to Stephen Smyth, who says he can still smell the odour in his neighbourhood in Steveston, far away from the facility.

"It's not like a sewage smell. It's not like a heavy industrial chemical smell. It's kind of a mix of chemical and compost. Very sour," he said.

"We don't actually know what we're breathing in ... I don't think the city knows, I don't think the province knows."

With files from Megan Batchelor