Residents of this St. John Valley town plagued by smells emanating from a chicken manure composting facility north of the border were looking for answers Wednesday morning. What they learned was that Canadian environmental agencies are studying the problem.
FRENCHVILLE, Maine Residents of this St. John Valley town plagued by smells emanating from a chicken manure composting facility north of the border were looking for answers Wednesday morning. What they learned was that Canadian environmental agencies are studying the problem.
It has been 20 months since the Frenchville town office began receiving complaints about the foul smell, and more than eight months since it was determined to come from the composting facility of Les Produits Agricole Ouellet of St. Hilaire, New Brunswick, directly across the St. John River from the Maine town.
Adding to the local problem Wednesday morning, a faxed letter from Jean Paul Ouellet, president of the Canadian company, said a recent study done by the Canadian Ministry of Environment, in conjunction with New Brunswick environmental officials, "showed clearly that the odors are mostly limited to the site."
The offending site is a huge compost pile of chicken manure, which comes from poultry barns owned by the farm; the manure is mixed with sawdust and chemicals for its transition into compost. The huge pile, which sits on a cement pad where leachate is collected and reintroduced into the process as the pile dries, is more than 200 feet across, according to Benoit Dumond, mayor of St. Hilaire.
It's a nuisance in the Village of St. Hilaire as well, Dumond said. A local committee there has been working on the problem for about two years.
A recent survey of Frenchville residents, sent to 461 households and returned by 188 of them -- a response rate of about 41 percent -- indicated that most of the town is bothered by the smell.
More than 90 percent said they have smelled the foul odors, with 94 percent describing them as bad or very bad odors. More than 87 percent said the smells keep them from outdoor activities, 67 percent said it has made them feel sick, and 88 percent believe the odors could affect their health.
The smell can be detected on a weekly basis, according to 67 percent. A full 99 percent say the state, province of New Brunswick or the Canadian federal government should do something about it, according to the survey, which was explained by Steve Young, a member of Frenchville's Citizens for Clean Air Action Committee.
"Quality of life and clean air is something we had here and have lost in the last couple of years," Frenchville Town Manager Philip Levesque told a public hearing attended by about 80 residents Wednesday morning. "The company was told to take care of the odors last summer, but it has not happened.
"It is being studied," he said of the smell.
Young, who lives in a residential district almost directly across the St. John River from the compost plant, said the smell is brought south by prevailing winds.
"I believe the odors happen when they turn over the piles," Young said.
Residents have complained that smells from the plant along the St. John River are so bad during periods of northerly winds that windows and doors must remain closed and residents must cut short their outdoor activities.
According to residents, the problem of acidic and sulfur smells started 18 to 24 months ago. Residents fear health problems could be associated with the plant. At the very least, they claim, their quality of life has suffered. Young described it as an "environmental issue."
Levesque said the town of St. Hilaire, New Brunswick, also has had problems, depending on the direction of the wind. He said the plant is close to the river, and can be seen from some sections of Frenchville.
Until a few years ago the chicken manure in northwest New Brunswick was spread on fields. The government stopped the practice and compost facilities opened. Dumond said the company that operated the current site before Ouellet's company purchased it did not have a problem with smells.
The site was chosen for the compost facility because it has available power, it is properly zoned industrial and it is close to a rail line.
Dumond said one report recommended the installation of a dome or roof over the exterior facility and the addition of a biochemical filter that would control at least 70 percent of the fumes.
The owner and Canadian officials are awaiting a report from a study that was started in January.
Dumond said the company has been asked to move the facility, but they have refused that option.
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