Courtesy, candor and carefulness keys to resolving odor problem in Moroni

 

6/22/2017

 

Anyone who has lived in Sanpete County for any length of time is probably accustomed (or should be) to the smells of rural living.

Admittedly, those smells are more pasture than pastoral; the bucolic beauty of our locale comes with certain olfactory costs.

But the stench emanating from a three-month old wastewater lagoon at Norbest in Moroni is more than citizens should have to endure for more than the briefest period of time.

Moroni citizens are rightly upset at Norbest for what, under any public-policy definition as well as regular colloquy, would be called a nuisance.

A more-or-less legal definition of nuisance is “the substantial interference with the use and enjoyment of land and property.”

The lagoon fits that definition. Just ask any longtime aging Moroni couple not sitting in their porch chairs in the cool of the evening because they cannot bear the odor.

At the outset, we should say that we recognize the turkey plant as a vital, integral part of the local economy. If not the heart, it is at least representative of the heart of the area’s agriculture lifestyle as well as livelihood.

It has attempted, which has not always been easy, to be a good and responsible neighbor. As CEO Matt Cook wrote in a prepared statement, “We breath the same air as our neighbors.”

And use the same water, which is why a few years ago the plant partnered with the city to build a new sewer system when, largely due to the stress placed on the existing sewer at that time, the system failed certain environmental-protection tests. Things were so bad that the continued operation of the Moroni sewer system was in jeopardy.

Norbest has always maintained an open-air wastewater basin. But in 2015, with the continued growth of production at the plant (for which we are grateful), the basin proved insufficient and overflowed.

The state required remediation, which included a newer and bigger lagoon.

Odor, as explained by the company and experts, is to be expected from any brand new open-aired waste lagoon while it is still settling and stabilizing.

The company recently iterated three planned measures to remediate the odor. They include a “malodor counteractant,” chemicals that will reduce the odor; the addition of microbes that will breakdown the waste components (they were not initially added on the advice from waste-treatment engineers, the company said); and certain yet-to-be-decided “pre-treatment” options to separate out some of the waste material prior to dumping into the lagoon.

And the smell will naturally decrease as the lagoon settles and an “upper layer” is formed.

That’s about as far as we can go in terms of exoneration; it is not only the stink that stinks:

• In a letter to Moroni’s residents dated May 30, the company admits “it was anticipated that initially the smell would be stronger due to the time needed for the lagoon to build and properly set up.”

Why in the name of sulfur and brimstone, if the company expected the smell, did it not proactively implement as many of the counter measures as it could?

In legal cases, much rides on the phrase “knew or should have known.” The company knew. To not have planned in advance was either careless or thoughtless.

• Since things have blown up, Norbest has become more forthcoming with information. The company wrote a letter that, according to Mayor Luke Freeman, was delivered to all Moroni residents.

The letter does a lot to help explain things, maybe even to the point of assuaging some real rancor. (However, the letter was dated May 30; there was still quite a bit of discontent at a city meeting fully two weeks later).

Why didn’t the company, or the city for that matter, warn residents what to expect?

• In CEO Cook’s written statement, he said, “We will work hard to keep the lines of communication open,” but only after closing to all but a trickle those lines to the Messenger, declining an interview.

Going forward, we hope Cook and other company officials do, indeed, make candor and open communication a priority.

• And while we have said little about potential hazards, we feel we need to. Norbest needs to be exceptionally vigilant in maintaining and monitoring health and environmental protections at the lagoon, particularly any potential contamination of the main city well 1,000 yards away.
Summing up, officials from Norbest, Moroni City and the state, anyone who has a part in resolving this mess؅, would do well to keep three “Cs” firmly in mind: Courtesy, candor and carefulness.