IN ANCIENT mythology, the phoenix is a mythical sacred firebird. Said to live for 500 or 1461 years (depending on the source), the phoenix is a bird with beautiful gold and red plumage. At the end of its lifecycle the phoenix builds itself a nest of cinnamon twigs that it then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix arises.
Lonnie Heflin's new company, Bay Organics, LLC is much like that mythical phoenix; arising anew from the ashes of a failed composting facility in Dorchester County on the Maryland Eastern Shore (also known as the Delmarva Peninsula). Heflin, a former Director of Marketing for now-defunct New Earth Services, Inc., has, since February 2006, been a remediation contractor to the county. Heflin's mission is to clean up some 140,000 tons of unprocessed feedstocks left behind at New Earth Services' composting facility by completing the composting process and moving the resulting product to market. Since he began in 2006, Heflin has sold over $1.2 million worth of compost and compost-amended horticultural products to offset the estimated $3 million site remediation and cleanup cost.
The story begins over 12 years ago, when Pat Condon, then the President of New Earth Services (NES), opened a composting facility in 1995 on land leased from
Condon operated on a 30-acre parcel leased from the county, taking in crabmeat processing (crab chum), poultry hatchery and rendering wastes, poultry mortalities, and poultry by-products that could not be rendered. These materials were composted in large windrows turned with an excavator. NES also took in off-spec diaper wipes from a personal products manufacturer. This stream, which included the plastic containers and shrink film as well as the fabric wipes, became an ongoing solid waste problem for NES. Due to the lack of an effective product marketing and sales program, NES began to experience significant accumulations of wastes on site. To remedy this problem, Heflin was hired in 2002 to develop and implement a compost sales program.
CHALLENGES BEGIN WITH STORAGE PONDS
Problems began for NES in 2001 when it began taking semisolid residuals from a nearby food processing plant. The wet waste was contained by berms - essentially the outer wall of the storage “pond.” As liquid levels dropped, NES would fill these areas with sawdust, horse manure, tub-ground wood, etc. to serve as an absorbent. When the “semi-solids” became predominantly “solids” NES would deconstruct the berms and add this material to the steadily accumulating “in process” inventory. More “berms” were built as more semisolids were accepted.
Odors generated from the site were the result of large volumes of material being allowed to sit for months or years without turning. New deliveries of putrescible materials such as poultry mortalities, and clam and hatchery by-products were handled by blending with tub-ground wood and being pushed up into continually expanding stockpiles. These materials were only moved into “excavator sized” windrows when sales demand required the need to make product. The real odors came when these stockpiles were moved into windrows for turning, combined with more putrescible materials being delivered daily.
In 2005, reacting to anonymous complaints about water pollution arising from the storage ponds as well as off-site odors, WBAL - TV (
NES filed bankruptcy on December 12, 2005.
Enter Heflin. The son of a mulch and soils businessman in Virginia, Heflin had spent much of his career following his father's footsteps, as well as running a yard waste and horse manure composting facility in northern
CLEANUP AND PRODUCT MARKETING
In February 2006,
Materials have been processed in large windrows turned by an excavator, as that was the only turning equipment on-site when Heflin started operations in 2006. “The only reason we have 'excavator sized' windrows is due to the limited compost pad area,” says Heflin. “It was part of the closure plan to get all material in active composting and using excavator-sized rows was the only answer at the time.” Windrows also are turned with a Backhus 16.55 turner acquired in April 2006. “Our process now involves getting material from the larger windrows into windrows that can be turned by the Backhus,” he adds. “The larger windrows are turned with an excavator based on equipment available and the status of other site improvement projects that require the use of the excavator. Turner-sized windrows are turned based on temperature and site conditions.”
Total processing time is 22 weeks to product maturity (as measured with a Solvita™ test kit). “We screen when windrows show stable, or very close to it by Solvita results,” Heflin notes. “We shoot for a 6 on the scale, but if the material still has a faint odor of ammonia, we may go ahead and screen if we have enough finished product in inventory to give this final ammonia a chance to blow off.”
Monitoring the compost manufacturing process is an important quality assurance program. Monitoring consists of tracking pile temperatures, oxygen contents and moisture levels to ensure an optimum environment for microbial decomposition. To document the composting process, Bay Organics uses Windrow Manager™ software from Green Mountain Technologies. This system uses a wireless temperature/moisture probe that records windrow conditions in a Pocket PC data logger. This data is downloaded to the office PC. Windrow Manager software allows Bay Organics to document the composting process and record windrow conditions as required to meet PFRP (Process for the Further Reduction of Pathogens) and Vector Attraction Reduction. Bay Organics tracks the composting process for each windrow (each windrow has a batch record with multiple data sets depending on materials being processed) and to ensure temperature (at two depths in the windrow) and oxygen level are recorded and can be printed as log or graph indicating temperatures and/or oxygen levels. Moisture content is calculated by taking composite samples from a windrow and weighing the samples as taken and after drying in a microwave oven.
A Powerscreen 1800 trommel outfitted with a 3/8-inch screen is used to prepare compost for market. “Some of our product is screened as soon as the temperatures stay around
Most of the production is sold in bulk, but a significant quantity is bagged, using a South-Tech manual bagging system capable of processing 4,000 40-lb bags/8-hour shift. The main product lines are Chesapeake Blue (composted crab chum), Chesapeake Green (composted poultry residuals), HI-CAL (composted hatchery waste) and products that are contract bagged for MNGC. MNGC is the nation's largest independent garden center cooperative with approximately 800 members nationwide.
Heflin eyes the future with some unease. “I've got orders for products I'm going to have trouble filling in 2008 if I can't get new compost production going again,” he notes. “I see tremendous opportunity to build a facility that can be a model for similar operations around the country, but we need to get operations going again.” To do that, he must continue to build trust and convince
The County seems supportive of Heflin's plans, although they are cautious. Tenanty notes that the county's recycling rate has dropped sharply since the composting facility ceased taking in new material. The county notes on its website: “As part of the County Solid Waste Plan, it will be necessary to evaluate whether continued operation as an agricultural composting facility is feasible to address the need for handling the large quantity of crab chum and poultry waste generated in
Craig Coker is a Principal in the firm of Coker Composting & Consulting in