Commercial compost pile with odor and drainage issues causing frustration for Henrietta homeowners

Neighbors in Henrietta irked by growing compost pile

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HENRIETTA, N.Y. — Neighbors of a growing, commercial compost pile in Henrietta are fed up.  It’s not only the smell that’s keeping them up at night, but the possible environmental impacts of what’s becoming a massive pile and the number of trash bags and toters stacking up on the site.

The Nestlen home along Erie Station Road in Henrietta is perfect for the family of six. “We’re still close to civilization, but we have 6 acres and its beautiful,” says Rich Nestlen.  All was well until last summer. “I started smelling what I thought was a dead deer,” he says. 

People using the Lehigh Valley Greenway Trail, which separates the Nestlens’ property from the land next-door, started stopping to ask about the smell, too. “Man, are you guys smelling that smell? Like, what is that smell, like I’m not going to run on the trail, it’s horrible,” Rich recalls of a recent conversation.

Turns out, a commercial composting company, Impact Earth, rented farm land on the other side of the trail.

“We are environmental people, we appreciate that, we love the outdoors, we compost ourselves on our property,” Rich says — but what’s happening next-door is next-level. “Then we learn, it is not just a Henrietta operation; Impact Earth is in fact collecting compost from the county, from the city and from actually outside of Monroe County in some cases and bringing it to this site.”

Previously, Impact Earth collected compost and brought it to a pile in Geneva, but now, it’s building its own (and first) pile in Henrietta. “This land around us is state and federal wetlands, all along here, and they’ve been allowed to just operate there essentially with no oversight of any kind for almost a year,” Rich says.

Henretta Town Supervisor Steve Schultz tells News10NBC that because the land is zoned rural residential/agriculture, Impact Earth technically doesn’t need a special-use permit to start composting there. “We know that their intent is to ship it off-site, but technically until they actually ship it off-site they are not required to get a permit,” he explains. 

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC) – There are garbage bags everywhere, there’s toters everywhere, it almost looks like they can’t keep up with the demand that they have for the compost pile … does it ever become a code issue for your folks?

Steve Schultz – It could, but our codes officer has been over there many times and hasn’t cited it. 

Jennifer Lewke – Are there runoff issues or concerns at all?

Steve Schultz – So, that’s DEC’s job and I don’t know if they do or don’t have them, they’re looking into that. That’s their domain, not ours.

Impact Earth did not initially file the proper regulatory paperwork with the state to operate a commercial composting site. In a statement, a spokesperson for the NYSDEC says, “The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is providing guidance and regulatory support to Impact Earth in Henrietta to bring the facility into compliance to ensure the protection of public health and the environment. Impact Earth is providing a beneficial service to keep food scraps out of landfills consistent with the New York State Food Donation and Food Scrap Recycling Law and the New York State Solid Management Plan. DEC will take all appropriate enforcement action to resolve violations.”

The CEO of Impact Earth did not return calls and emails from News10NBC — and when Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke arrived at the compost site, a worker shut and locked the gate. 

Schultz says he understands the frustration of neighbors in the area. “Part of the problem with that site is it is low-lying and so, it gets a lot of water,” he explains. “The water goes through and carries the bacteria out, and that’s what generates the heavy odors.”

Because of the concern, the town has been in discussions with Impact Earth and with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation about moving the composting site to a former fill site on Middle Road. The site is high and dry as it is built up on crushed concrete and pavement millings, according to Shultz.  He says there are no creeks, springs, or washes running through it and the town would be willing to install catch basins underneath to catch the nutrient-rich “tea” that percolates out of the compost and collect it in large, sealed drums.

The other benefit of the new site, according to Schultz, is there are fewer neighbors and none of them are to the east. The hope is the site would also become the town’s leaf and brush dropoff so there will be plenty of wood and leaf material to cover the compost, which again reduces any odor output.

The town says it’s been discussing with Impact Earth that rather than collecting rent, the company could offer some free composting services to Henrietta residents.   

The town, Impact Earth and DEC are meeting this week to create a site layout and try to formalize a proposal to be brought to the Town Board for approval.