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ENVIRONMENT

Neighbors complain of odors at compost/recycling facility near St. Helena

UVDS facility on Whitehall Lane

A Upper Valley Disposal Services garbage truck arrives with a load at the UVDS sorting facility on Whitehall Lane in 2018.

Whitehall Lane residents are complaining of ongoing problems with odors, noise and light pollution at Upper Valley Disposal Service’s composting and recycling facility, and some are pressing for an independent audit.

The severity of the odor ebbs and flows, but at its worst “we haven’t been able to enjoy where we live,” said Whitehall Lane resident Lauren Pesch during a virtual meeting on Feb. 23 that attracted at least 36 participants.

In March 2019, “it was almost for a month that we couldn’t be outside without it smelling — as my little 3-year-old said — like poop,” Pesch said.

A handful of other neighbors raised similar complaints during the meeting, which Supervisor Diane Dillon said was aimed at producing a “productive dialogue” between UVDS and residents of Whitehall Lane, located about a mile south of the St. Helena city limits.

Whitehall Lane residents Matt and Kami Smith said previous discussions with UVDS “have fallen on deaf ears” and called for an independent audit of the company and its operations.

“This was a family that had an idea to provide a service to the valley, with no real expertise in waste management,” said Matt Smith. “And it has grown into a major enterprise, but an economic and environmental nightmare to the surrounding community.”

Peter Ex, manager of Napa County’s solid waste program, said there have been “significant positive changes at the facility” in the past year or two.

“The pond going anaerobic was a very difficult time for everyone out there,” Ex said. “It took (UVDS) a little while to get a handle on the situation, but they have made numerous improvements to their pond system to hopefully keep that from happening again.”

Within the last 20 months, UVDS has installed a new management team, cleaned up the facility, and added more aerators at the pond associated with the worst odors, said Christy Pestoni, chief operating officer at UVDS.

The facility has converted most back-up alarms to less annoying “white noise,” redirected lights after complaints from neighbors, and planted more trees and shrubs to screen the facility, Pestoni said.

To cut down on odors from composting, the facility has improved its technique for blending grape pomace with green waste and abandoned plans to accept commercial food waste, Pestoni said.

Ex said he will work with UVDS to improve the process for reporting odors.

“There’s always going to be odors at a compost facility,” said Ex. “I don’t think you’re ever going to get away from that. But they shouldn’t be offensive odors and they shouldn’t continually affect your lives.”

John Williams, who lives near Whitehall Lane, said he and other neighbors aren’t experts in the technical details of composting and recycling, but “we’re getting pretty good at being able to tell when it stinks and when it sounds bad and when it glares into our rooms.”

“The number of people concerned are growing and getting a little tired,” Williams said.

WATCH NOW: COCA-COLA LAUNCHES NEW BOTTLES MADE FROM 100% RECYCLED MATERIALS

Coco-Cola is launching a new 13.2-ounce bottle that will be made from 100% recycled plastic materials. This is the first time in 10 years that the company has released a new bottle size. The new bottle will be available in select states starting this February, before being released nationwide this summer. The “more sippable” bottle size will be available in the company’s most popular sodas for a suggested retail price of $1.59. We've been listening to consumers and they have been telling us they want something a little smaller and a little more easy to consume, Alpa Sutaria, Coca-Cola's general manager of sustainability. In 2020 Coca-Cola was named the world's number 1 plastic polluter by environmental organization Break Free From Plastic.

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You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.

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