Martin Mileck’s Potter Valley Dump

by Mark Scaramella, February 20, 2008

As a public service, and as a guide to how Mendocino County and its haphazard media phlegmatically conspire to bamboozle the public let's deconstruct a recent story about Martin Mileck's Cold Creek Compost permit problems.

"Compost Permit Issuance Expected, by Ben Brown, The Daily Journal, February 17th, 2008. After a protracted series of court battles and regulatory changes, Cold Creek Compost owner Martin Mileck said he expects to be operating with a full permit again after Wednesday's meeting of the California Integrated Waste Management Board in Sacramento. 'It's fixing a regulatory screw-up,' Mileck said."

Mileck doesn't explain what he calls a "regulatory screw up." But we're supposed to take his word for it.

"Cold Creek Compost opened at 6000 Potter Valley Road in 1993 and got its full operational permit in 1995."

Two years of operation without a permit above the Russian River on an otherwise rural hilltop.

"At that point the state had no compost permit; we had to get a full solid waste processing permit,' Mileck said."

Yes, the state did have a compost permit, but not for what Mileck wanted to do, which was much more than a large backyard compost pile. The state was trying its hardest to get lots of stuff out of the waste stream and into the compost stream, so of course they'd have had compost permits — but that was for dirt and vegetative matter that you'd normally expect in a compost pile. The items Mileck was "composting" however, by his own after-the-fact permit application, included Masonite fly ash (sludgelike glop from the unburnable leftovers after Masonite burned what they burned in their glueboard incinerator which Masonite's own records showed included refinery waste and unrecycled motor oil brought in for incineration at the Masonite plant in railcars). Mileck was also allowed to compost this sludge "feedstock" under a category known as "liquid feedstocks." Also composted are large quantities of raw very smelly chickenshit along with dead chickens and turkeys euphemized as "poultry mortalities." And tons and tons of highly odiferous grape pomace and lees which had previously been left to rot at the Ukiah dump along with other winery and vineyard leavings. Mix all this stuff with sheetrock and other trash from regional demolition sites hauled up to Mileck's Potter Valley Dump as "wood waste" and you've got a highly unusual "organic" compost.

Mileck's compost operation is more like an ordinary commercial garbage dump than it is a compost business as advertised. And not everything hauled up to Mileck's dump is composted; lots of it is "land spread" on Buck Guntly's huge old ranch, where rain washes it down into the Russian River as that battered stream flows to drinking fountains in Sonoma and Marin Counties. Initial Environmental Health department findings said that Mileck's dump operators were not adequately containing run-off from the unpermitted site. But Mileck says all of that is "contained" now.

"The Mendocino Environmental Center sued Mendocino County for issuing Cold Creek a permit and the judge ordered an Environmental Impact Report be performed on the site."

True. But it was a neighbor-initiated lawsuit; the MEC piggy-backed onto the neighbor suit filed by Potter Valley resident attorney Pano Stephens. Stephens was not particularly experienced with such environmental suits, but he lives in the vicinity of Mileck's dump, which seemed to provide plenty of extra inspiration to Stephens to get it right. Then, even though the environmental impact review showed lots of toxic problems and neighbors constantly exposed to round-the-clock dump-stench and other nuisances and health hazards, the County approved the permit with a teensy bit of "oversight" by Environmental Health, but nobody else because Mileck's dump allowed the County to achieve its state-mandated waste stream reduction percentages, when in fact the only difference was that a lot of trash that used to go the Ukiah dump was instead dumped on Guntly's ranch.

"The Mendocino County Department of Environmental Health downgraded Cold Creek's permit, 'inappropriately.' Mileck said. Later, the state of California eliminated that permit level entirely."

"Mileck said"? Gosh, I guess that makes the Environmental Health Department wrong right there!

"'His tier disappeared,' said Environmental Health Director Dave Koeppel."

His tier? Presumably, Koeppel means that a loophole was closed which let Mileck's dump be operated under the "compost" euphemism.

"Mileck said he continued to operate under that permit until it became clear that was no longer allowed."

"Became clear"? Mileck's permit violations didn't "become clear" — it was always "clear" to anyone who can smell piles of rotting chickens. "Became clear" in this case was probably a letter from a well-meaning low-level waste board or environmental health staffer who doesn't understand how this kind of stuff is greased and issued a routine notice of violation.

"In 2006, the County told Mileck he would have to get a new permit for Cold Creek Compost or shut down entirely."

That would have made the violations clear, in case they weren't already clear.

"So Mileck went through the process again and, on Feb. 11, the CIWMB [the California Integrated Waste Management Board] met as the Permits and Compliance Board and sent the permit to the full board. On Wednesday, the board is scheduled to take public comment and vote on the permit."

This is the Board that former state senator Wes Chesbro and his Democratic and Republican party hack pals sit on for $120k/year while they wait to run for another office. They are purely political entities with political agendas to help their political friends and other well-connected insiders. The Board's chief goal is to pretend that it's doing something about trash reduction when trash is simply dumped on "compost" piles instead of in approved dumpsites where they'd have to be counted as trash.

"'On the 20th, they'll reinstate,' Mileck said."

How does Mileck know that?

"The new permit does not change Cold Creek Compost's business."

Of course not. Mileck will continue to be a neighborhood eyesore and general nuisance just like he's been since 1993 when he and Guntly bulldozed a road up the hill from the river and started hauling smelly stuff into their for-profit dump.

"Mileck will still be operating a 40,000 cubic yard compost business with a maximum permitted load of 400 tons per day."

How do you suppose Mileck is finding up to 400 TONS PER DAY to take up to Guntly's ranch in a constant stream of large semis at the rate of 20-40 trips per day on an unimproved rural neighborhood road? Do you think Mileck and good ol' Buck Guntly can find that much benign vegetative compost material? Or is it a regional dumpsite?

"'He's not expanding and he's not moving the site,' Koeppel said. 'His business cannot expand under the current permit'."

Mileck's business is already taking in up to 400 TONS PER DAY. The implication is that he's ready to handle more of the region's trash, and greater varieties of it as soon as the permit is upgraded.

One small detail from Mileck's permit application was entirely left out of Mr. Brown's report: "Permitted average [not maximum] throughput of compost feedstocks is 200 tons per day inbound and 100 tons per day outbound at full production." What happened to the other 100 TONS PER DAY?

* * *

In a related recent development, on November 20, 2007, State Farm Insurance won a jury trial against Mileck. Mileck had sued the insurance company for not "indemnifying" his compost facility against claims related to "offensive and injurious odors" flowing from it to neighboring properties. In that case, a Ukiah jury ruled that the foul odors emanating from Cold Creek's huge piles of rotting whatever constituted a legal nuisance and that such nuisances are "pollution" as defined by prior court rulings; therefore State Farm had no obligation to defend or pay damages to Cold Creek under their "pollution exclusion" clause.

The case stemmed from the neighbor nuisance lawsuit against Cold Creek filed in the mid-90s which alleged that Cold Creek Compost operations caused "foul and noxious odors, disruptive noise, and polluting discharge of materials, excessive dust and traffic, and visual blight" and awarded the five suing neighbors $125k each for having to put up with it and for having their properties devalued by the industrial dump that had moved in on them. State Farm declined to defend Cold Creek against the suit and refused to pay for damages awarded to the neighbors, arguing that "pollution" related damages are not covered in their policy. The Appeals court agreed with State Farm. Cold Creek was forced to at least put cover materials or tarps on the odiferous mess as part of the jury decision.

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