Compost plant environmentally friendly: GE Group

ARMS, however, still has concerns

A photograph of a compost plant similar to the one being proposed by the Golden Eagle Group.

A photograph of a compost plant similar to the one being proposed by the Golden Eagle Group.

A new compost plant proposed within a few hundred metres of the Pitt Polder Ecological Reserve will be environmentally friendly and not pose any risk to the surrounding water table, say its proponents.

Golden Eagle Ranch Inc. is hoping to build the two-hectare plant, which will process more than 23,000 metric tonnes of organic compost annually, to fertilize upwards of 80 hectares of organic blueberry fields the company operates in Pitt Meadows.

Golden Eagle Ranch is part of the Golden Eagle Group and owned by the Aquilini Investment Group, which owns the Vancouver Canucks.

The Golden Eagle Group owns more than 2,000 hectares of farmland in Pitt Meadows, covering more than 23 per cent of the city’s total area.

While the composting process can create toxic liquids which can leach into the groundwater, Golden Eagle’s environmental manager John Negrin says a 10- to 15-centimetre-thick concrete pad and a 3,550-cubic-metre, lined “goody pond” to collect compost leachate will prevent that from happening.

Negrin also downplayed concerns about truck traffic through Pitt Meadows, saying the plant will likely only see a maximum of 10 dump truck trips per month.

By producing their own organic compost to fertilize their fields, Negrin said Golden Eagle can reduce its consumption of commercial fertilizers, which is good for the environment.

“This is a green product we’re using,” he said.

The plant will truck in chicken and horse manure from Golden Eagle’s surrounding farming operations, and mix that with wheat straw from Washington State and gypsum powder from Alberta.

The mixture would then cured outside, underneath a 6,300-square-metre covered structure, nearly the size of 1.5 football fields.

The compost would then be trucked out for used at a mushroom farm in Abbotsford, and after 45 to 60 days, trucked back in for use in Golden Eagle’s farms.

“It’s a great application, because you get two uses out of one product, which means less consumption of fertilizers,” Negrin said.

With the nearest residential property more than five kilometres away and upwind, Negrin said the odour from the decaying manure wouldn’t be noticed.

“There won’t be any odour under our management practices,” he said. “Our golf course is next door, so we want to make sure there’s no smell.”

The water used in the composting process would come from Golden Eagle’s existing water license, and the process uses a minimal amount of water, Negrin contends.

“We don’t want to have any excess water in the compost because that makes it heavier and more expensive to transport,” he said.

However, a group of local environmentalists is concerned the water the plant may draw could lower the water table, causing potential harm to the nearby ecological reserve.

“They still haven’t told us how they will monitor the water table,” said Amanda Crowston, executive director of the Alouette River Management Society. “Given their track record of water use in Pitt Meadows, we would expect more due diligence in regards to their environmental practices.”

Five numbered companies owned by the Aquilini Investment Group currently face six charges under the Water Act, including diverting water without authority, illegal use of water, and installing a pump into the river without authorization, after installing a 45-centimetre-wide water intake pipe in the North Alouette River in 2009.

Crowston said ARMS also has concerns about the leachate and methane gas that would be produced by the compost as it decomposes, and how it will be handled.

“These are dangerous substances,” she said. “And the facility is right next to Pitt marsh.

“It’s a very delicate ecosystem.”

Last week, Pitt Meadows council voted to support Golden Eagle’s application to the Agricultural Land Commission to allow the plant. Because the plant will be using gypsum powder in the process, the compost production is considered a non-farm use, and requires a special exemption.

“This is a normal farming activity,” Negrin said. “We’re just centralizing it.”