DRAWING THE LINE AT OFFENSIVE
By Dave Rosenberg, Yolo County Supervisor, Fourth District and Lynnel Pollock Yolo County Supervisor, Fifth District
Ah, Fall. Those bright crisp mornings. The invigorating air. Throw open those windows! Fill those lungs with fresh air. Smell those dirty diapers.
Unfortunately, yes. About this time last year, hundreds of residents of the southeast area of Woodland were confronted with a serious odor problem. And, yes, the odor smelled just like the inside of a diaper pail. Dozens of telephone calls came in to the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District ("AQMD") to City officials and to County Supervisors. It was strong; it was overpowering. Even with windows shut, the smell creeped into homes and businesses.
What was that smell?
Inspectors from the AQMD tracked the smell down. It was emanating from the Spreckles Sugar plant just north of Woodland. Residents organized a community meeting attended by hundreds of concerned citizens. After all, the odors were offensive and were forcing people into their homes with shut doors and windows.
As a result of the community meeting, a process was put into place to fix the problem. Chaired by Fourth District Supervisor Dave Rosenberg (the district where the affected residents live) and Fifth District Supervisor Lynnel Pollock (the district where the sugar plant is sited) an "Odor Task Force" was set up composed of representatives of the neighbors, the business community, the City of Woodland, Spreckles Sugar, the AQMD, the regional water board, County planning and public works and County environmental health. Spreckles Sugar stepped up to the plate and promised to solve and rectify the odor problem and the Task Force was charged with monitoring the progress.
In fact, Spreckles hired experts and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to find a solution and to fix it. The odor problem was ultimately traced to sugar beet shavings which were rotting in the fields and ponds. Particularly during incidents of north winds, the odors from the biodegrading shavings (akin to the small of dirty diapers) would waft south into the residential areas.
Spreckles decided to shorten its processing season and implemented a multi-phase process to reduce odors. It began to work. The incidents of odor were reduced; the number of complaints to the AQMD diminished.
The latest meeting of the Sugar Odor Task Force was held on September 14, 1998 at 3:00 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors Conference Room. The meeting was chaired jointly by Supervisors Pollock and Rosenberg. Attending were representatives from the Woodland Sycamore Ranch Community, the Regional Water Board, the AQMD, the business community near the plant, Spreckles Sugar, City of Woodland and Yolo County Planning and County Environmental Health.
During the meeting, Spreckles’ representatives updated everyone on their current activities. Spreckles has stopped putting plant waste water on the land southeast of the ponds since this parcel is in the process of being sold to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. Spreckles is going to direct irrigation from the facility rather than exclusively using the ponds for odor control, since they have had good experience with this process at their facility in Tracy. Spreckles announced that it is completing the installation of a system to quickly spray H2S (odor) suppressing chemicals directly on the pond when there is an incident and have a regular staff member monitoring odor conditions not only during the week but on the weekends. The plant was scheduled to close on September 19 and reopen production on September 29 for the fall season. The fall campaign should end on December 16, 1998.
The AQMD reported on complaints received over the summer. There were 10 complaints in June, 3 in July and 33 in August. The incidences of complaints were almost exclusively associated with north wind conditions. The AQMD is continuing to respond to complaints and is checking the odor conditions separately with their staff on a regular basis. The AQMD believes that this summer’s complaint level is much less than last year and that odor conditions are much more localized. Also, some odor incidents may have been caused by other entities. Residents were encourages to call the AQMD whenever they have odor conditions since this helps to record patterns and allows the AQMD to catch a new incident early.
At the Odor Task Force meeting it was emphasized that the ultimate solution to odors from the ponds will be to move the ponds to another location so that they will be located far from residential neighborhoods. However, it was also acknowledged that in the context of an agricultural county, it is important to recognize that there are a variety of odors inherently associated with an agricultural environment. It was suggested that a realistic goal is to minimize the potential nuisance effect of the most offensive of odors without hindering Yolo County’s agricultural industrial base that adds so much to our economic health and also supports the rural character that we all enjoy.