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As Botanie Valley residents fight composting operation, businessman says he should be applauded for recycling

Revolution Ranch describes its organic composting operation in the semi-arid Fraser Canyon near Lytton as a showpiece of sustainability and one of the “best, safest and most modern” such facilities on the planet.

To residents of the Botanie Valley, however, food scraps trucked from the Lower Mainland to their community have raised a stink that is out of this world.

Freedom-of-information documents show that local residents have lodged scores of complaints to the B.C. government about the operation. Its president and CEO is one of Metro Vancouver’s major trash haulers, Ralph McRae of Northwest Waste.

“It reeks today,” said one complaint to the province, dated March 28, 2015. “It physically made me throw up when I was outside. We should not have to live like this. On a 1-10 scale it is for sure 10+.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, David Karn, said staff visited the site in April and July this year and found it was not complying with its odour management plan.

A letter to McRae stated that while the composting operation is run very efficiently, unacceptably “strong offensive odours” were noted on Botanie Road about one kilometre from the compost site. The report noted residents have made more than 185 complaints about the operation.

Since then, Revolution Ranch has implemented the recommendations of a professional on resolving the problem, Karn said. A followup inspection in October found the operation in compliance.

Failure to comply with the plan and the Environmental Management Act risks potential administrative penalties of up to $10,000.

McRae said in an interview that problems started in the summer of 2014 when a forest fire prevented access to his property for more than two weeks followed by major rain — “acts of God outside of our control” — that disrupted the composting operation well into 2015.

“There was a periodic episode where the odour was higher than we’d like it to be. That just gave more fuel to the fire for people to get organized.

“We’ve now corrected the situation. It takes time to deal with these things when they get out of hand. We have a six-year operating history and this event occurred over a few months.”

He blamed a “handful of determined, obstinate, ignorant” local residents who refuse to recognize the efforts of a private company in helping achieve society’s goals for increased recycling of organic waste. The company also composts yard trimmings and employs 15 people in an area hungry for jobs, he noted.

“It’s a very small group of people who get up every morning and have nothing but time on their hands and decide they don’t want our business … in their valley,” he said. “They find ways to make all sorts of horrendous, exaggerated claims.”

McRae said the Revolution Ranch takes organic scraps from Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley and produces a quality organic compost soil — half of it sold and the other half used on the 280-hectare ranch, including for growing hops. The composting process takes more than one year.

McRae confirmed he has launched lawsuits against three residents over comments about his operation.

“They claim they are SLAPP lawsuits (to keep them silent) and applied to court to have them dismissed as such and they failed,” he said. “I won’t comment further on litigation in front of the courts.”

Revolution Ranch says that its compost operation is “more than a mile” from its nearest neighbour and shielded by trees.

Said McRae: “It’s surprising to me when we’re trying to do what the province and the region and everyone wants — recycle organic material — why that isn’t the story? We think we’re doing good work.”

lpynn@vancouversun.com

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/botanie+valley+residents+fight+composti...

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