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Pros, Cons of Joint Compost Program Debated

Officials vow they are seeking solutions as residents complain about the smell.

HAVERTOWN–Last Friday morning at the Haverford Township Public Works facility, home of a joint leaf compost program between and Haverford townships that has caused a controversy, many were discussing the pros and cons of keeping decomposing and malodorous leaves.

For residents such as Steve DiSipio and Bob Burd of the Westgate Hills section of Havertown for the last three years, the smell coming from the compost piles that is operated and shared by Haverford and Marple townships has deeply impacted their lives. Sometimes it does not smell that bad, but other days it is unbearable, they said.

“When they turn the pile and the wind blows, it’s bad. We have given the township three years to fix this problem and they haven’t,” Burd told Patch after a meeting between residents impacted by the smell of the leaf compost pile and officials from the two townships and expert Craig Coker of Coker Composting and Consulting.

During the meeting, Haverford Township Manager Larry Gentile admitted that the smell has gotten bad this past year, but said that he has listened to residents’ complaints and has brought Coker in to go over other options of saving the program, which according to last week stated that it is saving the Haverford Township taxpayer more than $200,000 each year.

Since the fall 2009, more than 12,000 tons of leaf waste has been collected.

However, DiSipio said during the meeting that the problem is that the compost pile is creating a strong odor and depending on how the winds blow, the smell does carry. 

“Sometimes early in the morning it’s not too bad, but by late day it is bad,” he said.

Tim Denny, Haverford’s assistant township manager, defended the program at the meeting, saying the compost program , a more cost effective alternative to salting the roads during snowy or icy conditions.

Because of the leaf compost program paying for the use of brine, $5,600 and 100 tons of salt were saved in the recent snowfall, Denny stated.

But while there are benefits to the leaf compost program, Steve D'Emilio, Haverford first ward commissioner, was concerned about the impact it would have on residents, fearing that they would move because of the smell.

“You will lose a community. You might as well take down Westgate Hills and make it into a big compost pile,” he told Patch after the meeting.

As he explained during the meeting and afterwards with Patch, Coker said that when there is a compost pile, there will be a smell.

DiSipio asked Coker if there is a health and safety issue to the compost pile, with Coker responding that the leaves decomposing in the open-aired facility is no different than what happens in nature.

The bacteria that breakdown the compost causes the internal temperatures of the piles in Haverford Township are between 138 and 148 degrees, Coker said, adding that if the internal temperatures reach beyond 180 degrees and exposed to oxygen there is a strong case of spontaneous combustion, which would cause a fire.

But Coker and other township officials assured that internal temperatures have not reached critical levels.

However, Coker has offered a few alternative solutions to the smelly problem:

  • Create a building to store the compost pile and use a bio filter to deal with the smell.
  • Turn the piles more frequently so the odor does not grow as strong.
  • Find another location, such as .

But building a storage facility does not seem like a feasible option to DiSipio.

“The only way to do this (program) properly is to spend millions,” he told Patch after the meeting. “The township does not have enough space or money for that.”

Coker agreed with both of DiSipio’s points, saying that there is never enough space for any compost piles and that it would not be affordable to build a storage facility.

However, Gentile and Jan Marie Rushforth, a member of the Haverford Township Environmental Advisory Committee, said they are looking into alternative places to move the compost programs.

Gentile said that while he does not want to see the leaf compost program closed down, which might mean more money for both townships’ residents to haul the leaves away, he would be willing to suggest it the Haverford Township Board of Commissions if no solution is found.

Marple Township officials echoed Gentile’s concerns after the meeting with Patch. Ed Cross, public works director, called the smell impacting residents a “quality of life” issue, but he pointed out that hauling the leaves away would cost Marple residents $60,000 in dumping fees alone and that does not include the cost of fuel and manpower. 

In a previous interview with Patch, Gentile stated that it could cost an additional $200,000 to the 2013 Operating Budget for Haverford Township if the problem closed.

Marple Township Code Enforcement Officer Joe Romano said that the program is a great opportunity for both townships to work together, but also echoed many by saying that if the odor is not dealt with, it might be best to get rid of the program.

Please see a report that Coker present to Gentile in 2011 accompanying this article as a PDf. It was given to Patch by DiSipio.

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