The owners of a
company building a $3.5 million anaerobic manure digester in
Skagit County, Wash., are banking on legislation that will cut
through a ribbon of red tape.
In their testimony last
week before the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic
Development Committee, brothers Kevin and Daryl Maas told
committee members about the roadblock they've encountered in
their attempts to include food waste - about 5 to 10 percent
of the total - in the mix going into the digester.
be able to do that, they need the state's Ecology Department
to exempt the facility from existing solid-waste
But after working with the department on this
for more than a year, they've become increasingly frustrated
and have turned their sights on legislation
"We want farms to be able to recycle food
waste into energy without being regulated like solid waste
facilities," said Kevin Maas, during last week's committee
work session on this issue.
Daryl Maas explained to the
legislators that manure is currently regulated as a dairy
nutrient under the state's Department of
"But the minute you add one pound of food
waste from off the farm into the manure, it's all considered
100 percent solid waste and becomes subject to regulation by
the Department of Ecology," he said.
Sen. Mary Margaret
Haugen, D-Camano Island, who is encouraging her colleagues to
ease regulatory restrictions on the use of food byproducts in
anaerobic digesters that run primarily on cow manure, found it
difficult to contain her frustration with the situation.
"As incredibly efficient as they are at changing
something like manure into energy, they're even more efficient
when you toss some food waste in with the cow patties," she
said. "Unfortunately, we have some silly rules on the books
that need to be taken care of before that can
Although Ecology Department officials say
they're supportive of manure digesters, they also say they
need to address issues such as making sure all digesters, not
just those operating on farms, are given the same
Public health is also an issue because, as
with any solid-waste facility, the department would expect
manure digesters to protect groundwater and control vermin and
During last week's Senate committee work
session, Laurie Davies, the Ecology Department's solid-waste
program manager, told committee members that she was
optimistic that a new permit rule could be written by
Even so, the Maas brothers are hoping to see
legislation that would create the exemption because
negotiations with the department don't seem to be going
"The department has not changed anything for
a year," Darryl Maas said in an interview with Capital
He also said that he and his brother were
heartened by how much support they received from committee
members during the work session.
The facility, which
will process manure from several farms to produce electricity,
is expected to be up and running in early August.
testifying before the committee were dairy producers Andy
Werkhoven and Steven Vander Haak.
In November 2004,
the Vander Haaks became the first dairy producers in the state
to use an anaerobic digester. The Werkhovens are currently
working on getting an anaerobic digester up and running in
Vander Haak and Werkhoven told
committee members that they also want to be able to use both
manure and food waste in their digesters - a process known as
Over in the House, Rep. John McCoy,
D-Tulalip, has already sponsored legislation, HB 1135, that
would exempt agricultural anaerobic digesters from solid-waste
After its first reading on Jan. 14, the bill
was referred to the House Ecology and Parks Committee, where
it was scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday, Jan.
Darryl Maas said expectations are that one of the
members of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Committee
will craft a similar bill.
Staff writer Cookson Beecher
is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. E-mail: