Workers with a Providence-based composting firm will spend the next 20 months at Warren’s Chase Farm, testing out a composting technique they believe will lead to better, richer compost — and less odor than traditional composting outfits produce.
But the plan, by The Compost Plant, is drawing criticism from some Birch Swamp Road residents who say they’re concerned about smells and the fact that the operation is being carried out at a farm whose development rights were purchased by the state some 32 years ago.
“It’s not right,” said one man who lives adjacent to Chase Farm and asked that his name not be used. “They’re taking over that land and they shouldn’t be after the state paid to preserve development rights there.”
Earlier this fall, Compost Plant officials reached an agreement with the farm’s owner, Joetta Kirk, to use the land for a small (two-acre) pilot program after company officials learned that a site at the Warren DPW that they’d hoped to use was not ready. The site sits on top of an old landfill and Compost Plant officials discovered earlier this year that it had not been “capped” years ago, as town officials believed it had.
Once the town land fell through, the Compost Plant’s Nat Harris said Ms. Kirk reached out to talk about the project and whether it would be a good fit for the farm.
“She had a manure pile there for many years,” Mr. Harris said. “We came over to take a look and we all agreed that it would be neat to try a pilot there to try the technique.”
The Compost Plant’s idea is to create compost at the site using air injectors that eliminate the need to turn the compost over to aerate it. Allowing the compost mix to sit in place while it is being aerated allows it to “cook” without the release of foul odors, and allows for other controlled conditions as well, Mr. Harris said.
“The pile stays undisturbed but still gets air,” said Mr. Harris.
Chase Farm’s development rights were the first ever secured by the state after the passage of the state’s Farmland Preservation Act in 1985. Since the rights are owned by the state, both the Compost Plant and Ms. Kirk reached out to the state to ask for permission to try the pilot program at the farm.
The request was reviewed by the state’s Agricultural Land Preservation Commission, which oversees the state’s program of acquiring development rights to farmland in Rhode Island. On Monday, the commission’s Kevin Nelson said the commission reviewed the plan and agreed to allow it for several reasons, including that it would benefit the farm, and that it would not be a permanent commercial operation.
“We wanted to make sure that this was not going to permanently impact the ability to farm at some point in the future,” he said. “We were assured that this was a limited two-acre operation. Should The Compost Plant at some point want to upscale, that would be an entirely separate proposal.”
After checking with DEM’s legal counsel, Mr. Nelson said commission members agreed that “this operation will in fact serve the farm, and is consistent with” the farm’s obligations under the state’s Farmland Preservation Act.
What’s going on at the farm?
Mr. Harris said that the operation will consist of a large bay that has mostly been built, though one more row of concrete blocks will be placed on top of those already delivered. Though he said he has heard of neighbors’ concerns, he believes the plant’s system will keep odors to a minimum and will have little to no impact on the neighborhood. As for the viability of the process, he said Compost Plant operators hope to prove that air injectors are viable. Once the 20-month lease ends, he said, company officials would like to try the operation at the Warren town yard, the original plan before concerns about the uncapped landfill sidetracked that location. Town officials hope to complete the capping of the landfill by then.
“It could be a couple of years, but with a 20-month pilot we will have the opportunity to show (the system’s) success,” Mr. Harris said.