A patron at the Ellsworth transfer station opens the back of her car outside the facility's recycling building on Jan. 4, 2019. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Odors that emanate from a composting business on Industrial Road have some neighbors up in arms over the smell.

Kevin Wallace, who owns Wallace Moving & Storage, said that the smell from across the road at Maine Organics is not constant, but it is frequent and often “horrible.” He said his grandchildren won’t come to visit him at work because of it.

“I have a huge investment in this town and this is killing my business,” Wallace told the elected City Council on Monday.

He said he stores furniture for some of his customers on site, and he worries the smell might contaminate his customers’ belongings. On some days, the smell seems to permeate everything on his property.

“Your clothes stink. Your vehicles stink. It’s not right,” Wallace said.

The compost piles also attract seagulls and rats, he said. The birds poop “on everything,” he said, and he has had to spend more money on pest control to try to keep the rats away.

Maine Organics, which was founded in July 2018, mixes wood shavings, seafood waste and biosolids from the city’s wastewater treatment plant into piles that decompose into compost. They sell the compost, often to landscaping and construction firms, who use it when planting vegetation as part of their projects.

Much of the seafood waste comes from Maine Shellfish, which has a location on Water Street in downtown Ellsworth. Old wood shavings that have been used by The Jackson Laboratory at the lab’s mouse breeding site on Beechland Crossing are also incorporated into the mixture.

Part of the process of converting the waste to compost includes turning the mixed piles as they decompose, which accelerates the process but also releases the gasses it generates into the surrounding air.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Ted Williams, owner of Williams Irrigation. “It’s not fair to the other businesses up there. I’ve been up there for 11 years, but I’m going to move. I’m done with it.”

Williams said that the smell from the city’s nearby transfer station is not comparable to the odor from Maine Organics. He said the worst days are cold days in winter when there is no wind and the stench doesn’t dissipate.

“My bookkeeper won’t come in,” he said. She will stop in briefly to get financial records and documents, he said, but then takes them back to her house and works from there.

“It’s been ignored long enough,” Williams told Connor Wellman, whose family owns and operates Maine Organics. “You ought to have a little mercy on your neighbors.”

Wellman said that they have been trying to reduce the smell that comes from the piles by covering them in sawdust, and that they try to turn the piles when the wind is blowing away from Industrial Road. He said the business would look into other odor control measures, but that they could prove cost prohibitive.

“It’s a compost yard and we’re going to have some odor,” Wellman said. “We’ve been working to lessen the odor.”

Some members of the council noted that they have smelled the odor when in the area, but it is not clear what steps the city could take to address it. Maine Organics is licensed by Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and so has to abide by DEP regulations, but the city has no general odor ordinance.

Dale Hamilton, chairman of the council, said the city would look more closely at its local laws to see if there might be more ways it can address the overall issue, either by rules that currently apply specifically to Industrial Road, which was developed by the city, or that might apply to the issue of attracting birds and rats.

“We’re not taking any action tonight,” Hamilton said. “If this is going to go forward, we need to know what’s in our purview around that.”

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....