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Mancos compost company faces permit revocation

County sets deadline for 49 Square to meet regulations
Patty Russell stands next to Mud Creek at her home west of Mancos in 2009. She had noticed the creek had turned black and began taking water samples.

Montezuma County commissioners on Monday voted to conditionally revoke a certificate of designation for 49 Square Ventures, a composting plant in Mancos.

The company processes organic waste including straw, aspen wood chips and coconut fiber from Western Excelsior in Mancos, and has a county-issued certificate to operate as a Class 2 composting facility, according to county documents. The request to rescind the certificate came from the Colorado attorney general’s office, which said 49 Square Ventures were out of compliance with state regulations and had not followed through with promises to the state.

The certificate will be revoked Nov. 30 if the company does not come into compliance.

During a hearing on the issue at the commission’s meeting Monday, the company’s co-owner, Matt Bradshaw, said the company is working to get in compliance.

“It was a shock they were recommending revocation,” he said. “We have been noncompliant ,but we are working with the state to get through it.”

Bradshaw, who is from California, said the state asked the company to do several things in order to be in compliance, including installing groundwater monitoring equipment, constructing ponds and updating signs at the plant. Bradshaw said the company had done almost everything on the list, and he was confident it would comply by Nov. 30.

Bradshaw also said local people interested in purchasing the company.

David Banas, of the attorney general’s office, joined the meeting by phone. He said 49 Square Ventures had repeatedly missed deadlines set by the state, and though the company has talked about new owners for five years, it hasn’t happened.

“49 Square Ventures has failed to do many things required by the Department of Health,” Banas said.

Banas said a 2009 fire at 49 Square Ventures produced toxic runoff that leaked into nearby Mud Creek and killed 2,600 fish. He said Colorado Parks and Wildlife had submitted a report saying the fish died in the creek.

Commissioner Larry Don Suckla denied there had been fish in Mud Creek, because of its high alkali content. (A state biologist recorded the water had a high acid content.)

Bradshaw said the company was on the final leg toward full compliance and could do so by the Nov. 30 deadline. If they had realized there was a possibility that the certificate would be revoked, they would not have invested money into the company, he said.

“We’re not just in California forgetting about (the company),” he said. “We are trying, and I believe we’ll get it done.”

County attorney John Baxter said the commission didn’t have much choice to revoke the certificate, since the request came from the state. It would not require much work to issue the company a new one, he said.

Suckla complained that the state was targeting companies that produce sawdust such as 49 Square Ventures for environmental compliance, but they allow the train in Durango to continue producing pollution right in the middle of town.

“We need to get our priorities straight,” Suckla said.

Acidic water cited in fish kill

Jim White, an aquatic biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, tested the water in Mud Creek on Oct. 14, 2009.

Water quality in Mud Creek was disastrous the day he tested, White said. The level of dissolved oxygen, 3 or 4 parts per million, was below the 5 ppm considered rock-bottom to sustain fish, he said. White said he took pH readings – a measure of acidity – of 3.9.

“Stomach acid measures 3.4,” White said. Neutral water has a pH of 7, and alkaline water is above 7.

The creek was home to a confirmed pair of native species of fish, the bluehead and flannel-mouthed suckers.

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