Residents in arms over big stink from waste lagoon
Citizens tell Moroni City Council odor from Norbest is out of control
MORONI—Moroni City residents packed a city council meeting last week, mainly to complain about what they describe as an intolerable stench coming from a 15-million-gallon anaerobic lagoon operated by Norbest.
Spokespeople for disgruntled residents said Moroni has always dealt with turkey production-related odors, but since the lagoon began operation in March the smell has been out of control.
“If you stick your head in the toilet after 14 people have gone in there—that’s the smell,” lifelong Moroni resident John Irons said at the meeting. “This town used to be a wonderful little town, and now nobody will even live here because of this.”
Brad Aldridge, an artist who lives in Moroni, said it was “unreasonable for a company to financially harm an entire town.”
Norbest, after being contacted by the Messenger, issued a statement. Matt Cook, Norbest CEO, told the Messenger via email he was sorry he did not have time for a face-to-face interview with a reporter.
“Norbest realizes that working in this community is a privilege, not a right, and we appreciate the community’s concern as we breathe the same air as our neighbors,” the statement read in part.
It continued, “Experts tell us ponds like these need time to mature before they can operate at maximum efficiency. We recently provided city officials a detailed list of the avenues we are exploring to address this situation in the short term. In the meantime, we will continue to work hard to keep lines of communication open.”
The statement added that Moroni City and Norbest would continue to work jointly on the anaerobic lagoon project, adding, “We will do everything reasonably possible to improve.”
Steps toward lagoon construction began as a solution required by the state after slurry—a mix of water and waste from turkey processing at the plant—overflowed out of a wastewater holding pond, known as an equalization basin, during peak operation in June 2015.
A year later, June 27, 2016, Norbest was granted a Ground Water Discharge and Construction Permit from the Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ) for the creation of an anaerobic lagoon, the fix for their problem.
DWQ welcomed public comment prior to the issuance of the permit, but comments made at the meeting last week indicated that knowledge about the comment period was perhaps limited.
An anaerobic lagoon is an outdoor, manmade basin meant to contain animal waste (in most cases, manure from concentrated animal-feeding operations). In the basin, wastewater undergoes anaerobic (i.e., without oxygen) respiration, where organic compounds are converted into carbon dioxide and methane. The system is intended to pretreat wastewater.
The DWQ permit allowed for a 7-acre, 15-million-gallon basin to contain slurry from turkey production. The lagoon is lined by a 40-millimeters thick layer of polyethylene plastic and a boarded levee surrounding the basin.
While DWQ environmental scientist Dan Hall called the lagoon a fine resolution, some Moroni residents still have reservations, if not outright rejection.
Alan Morley, a former employee at Norbest, said operations managers at the company were not involved in the resolution process.
“They just excluded everybody,” Morley said. “We never knew what was going on.”
At the city council meeting, Morley expressed his main concerns of groundwater contamination and water leakage. He also said he believed there might be a better way of dealing with the waste overload problem.
“I told them I totally disagreed with what they were doing,” Morley said. “One, it [the lagoon] is right over Moroni’s main aquifer, where we draw our water. Our main city well is just 1,000 yards directly north of it. Two, we are just moving backwards in time with this approach.”
Most other citizens at the meeting were irritated primarily by the aggressive and offensive odor.
Addressing those complaints, Councilman Thayne Atkinson said the city was not responsible for the lagoon.
“The smell is coming from the sewer pond, that pond they [Norbest] built,” he said.
According to Moroni Mayor Luke Freeman, who was interviewed a few days after the council meeting, “It is not that the city can’t do anything. It’s that we don’t have immediate control.”
For one thing, he noted, the lagoon is on private property owned by Norbest.
But, according to Hall, the lagoon is not all bad.
“In this case, a major benefit is a more even flow for the [city sewer] treatment plant,” Hall said. “The [new] holding pond allows them to better operate the facility in addition to limiting the risk for spills.”
Hall’s coworker, Wynn John, said that because there is no way to regulate or monitor odor, “it ends up being very situational” and up to the operator of the lagoon, or local government, to act on odor issues.
At another anaerobic lagoon at Circle Four Farms in Milford, one of the things that helped most was paving the road, according to Hall. The odor was sticking to dust particles from dirt roads and being transported.
“Once they paved the roads a lot of odor issues went down considerably,” Hall said.
But there is not always a quick solution. According to both DWQ employees, it is not uncommon for initial lagoon operations to have issues with odor.
Hall said if there is continual pumping of slurry, the pond will likely “turn over” repeatedly and push the unsettled, smelly slurry to the pond surface. If the first few layers of wastewater are allowed to settle, though, the smell should decrease over time.