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Ruling on controversial compost facility expected this week

By Lawrence Budd - Staff Writer

Until he angered neighbors, Marvin Duren was taking in as much as 50 tons a day of yard waste, animal manure and food scraps from local governments, restaurants and supermarkets, even the Cincinnati Zoo, at his compost facility south of Lebanon.

Duren’s facility, behind his home on U.S. 42, is one of 30 Class 2 organic composting facilities in Ohio licensed to accept food scraps as well as yard, agricultural and animal wastes, according to the Ohio EPA.

On Thursday, Warren County Commission is expected to rule on the conditions under which Duren will be permitted to get back to business.

“Run correctly, their value is that they save landfill space and provide a usable product at the end,” Heather Lauer, Ohio EPA spokesman, said in an email.

Composing facilities accepting food scraps provide major producers of food waste, including restaurants and grocery stores, an alternative to dumping tons of refuse into landfills.

Businesses handling food generate about half of all food waste in the U.S., while food scraps comprise up to 90 percent of waste thrown out by supermarkets and restaurants, according to the EPA.

Operators, ranging from communities to colleges to prisons to nursery operators like Duren, are licensed and regulated through the state’s Division of Materials and Waste Management.

Duren’s is one of 25 food scrap composting centers in the state.

In the Dayton area, Garrick Corp. in South Charleston, Clark County, and Brausch Farms, in Clarksville, Warren County, also compost food scraps.

Duren, who owned 24 Waffle House restaurants before getting into compost and nursery businesses, has been composting for almost two decades. He obtained a Class 2 permit in 2009 and continues to study new techniques in organic composting.

The facility, south of the nursery, Marvin’s Organic Gardens, is currently in compliance, the EPA said last week.

In 2012, the EPA cited Duren after finding he sold contaminated compost to one customer and had contaminated compost at his garden center north of the compost center on US 42, according to records.

Earlier this year, the county brought a lawsuit against Duren. The county brought the lawsuit in response to complaints from residents about the smell and concerns about Duren’s pond leaking above the aquifer and near adjoining properties, including a wellfield no longer used by the city of Lebanon.

The lawsuit was settled when Duren agreed to submit the site plan now under review by the commissioners. Duren has agreed to line the pond with clay and take a wide range of other steps, including installing a complaint line, designed to correct concerns with the facility.

“I am seriously apologizing. I didn’t mean to stir up a stink in this county,” Duren said during a public hearing on Dec. 5 with the commissioners.

Duren also said he has stopped accepting the higher-grade wastes, including the zoo manure, until the site plan has been approved by the county commissioners.

Duren testified that he has taken in yard wastes from cities including Lebanon and Mason, and animal wastes from nearby state prisons, in addition to food scraps from Walmart and other retailers.

Duren’s lawyer, Joseph Borchelt, also noted the county waited more than two years to require the site plan and supported a $250,000 state grant assisting Duren in expanding to be able to take in higher-grade wastes in 2009.

County staff has recommended conditional approval of the site plan.

Still neighbors want the county to shut Duren down, noting a history of problems with the facility.

“What we have there is not compost,” Kevin O’Sullivan said during the hearing. “The sight plan’s one thing. Reality’s another.”

O’Sullivan and his wife Tina live 1,017 feet away from the compost facility and operate a driving range and putt putt facility north of their home. The smell has chased kids at a pool party inside and prompted putt-putters to truncate rounds, O’Sullivan said.

Neighbor Jeff Benson said he put up his own sign, pointing trucks carrying wastes to Duren’s driveway, to clear up confusion and keep them off his property, due to complaints from tenants.

Benson acknowledged the smell has dissipated since Duren aerated his pond, but only after action by the EPA and county. “Before, the smell would take your breath away.”

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