December 20, 2022 | Collection, Composting, Facilities, Food Waste, Policies + Regulations

A Composter’s Cautionary Tale

Top: The concrete pad at the Lothian site was poured in 2018 in preparation for aerated static pile composting. Photo courtesy of Veteran Compost

Last week, we received an email from Justen Garrity, owner of Veteran Compost in Aberdeen, Maryland. The subject line was “Veteran Compost Eviction.” Garrity’s email alerted BioCycle to the following news:

“Several years ago, you wrote about Veteran Compost getting a grant to build a composting site in Lothian, Anne Arundel County, Maryland.  It took us more than five years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to navigate the County permitting process and build what is simply a gravel driveway and a concrete pad the size of a football field to compost less than 10,000 cubic yards/year [permitted capacity] of mostly manure, food waste, bedding and wood chips. But, in June 2022, we were finally ready to get started.

“A week after getting our Zoning Use Authorization that would allow us to open, the Anne Arundel County Executive ended our lease.  This was completely unforeseen and has dealt a crushing blow to our company.  On the eve of the Maryland food waste disposal ban going into effect on January 1, 2023, I will literally be picking up my compost bins in the shadow of the state capital, Annapolis, for the last time.  We can no longer afford to run routes to Annapolis from our site in Aberdeen.  Without a local site, our collection services have to come to an end.”

Unutilized compost pad in Lothian.

We called Garrity, who explained that Veteran Compost’s lease with Anne Arundel County — signed by the County Executive — had been extended once since the original lease was signed, and was due to be extended again on June 30, 2022. There was no indication that the lease wouldn’t be extended so with the zoning authorization in hand, Veteran Compost had moved equipment to the site, including a new trommel screen, and hired staff to operate the facility. “I’ve known the County Executive for 10 years,” explains Garrity. “He is on the Maryland Horse Council, and this site in Anne Arundel County was going to serve as a manure and food waste composting demonstration and public education/training facility, as well as a commercial composting site. Veteran Compost had received a $350,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Animal Waste Technology Fund aimed primarily at training and education for horse operations. The site is an old landfill. A training facility and our operation are an excellent way to take a brownfield and make something great.”

He adds that the site in Lothian is about half way between Veteran Compost’s two existing facilities in Alexandria, Virginia and Aberdeen. “It was going to be our linchpin — to be right in middle and allow Veteran Compost to grow and service food waste generators in that area around Annapolis,” says Garrity. “Our customers in Annapolis were some of our first ones. That was back in the days over a decade ago when I used to sleep in my SUV with a trailer attachment so I was in place to pick up the bins early in the morning and haul them back to our composting site.”

Garrity learned after the fact that the County Executive held a public hearing about extending the composting facility’s lease even though a hearing isn’t required. Residents were concerned about increased truck traffic as the area is home to a rubble pit and a gravel pit. “They are unhappy with truck traffic and feel ignored,” notes Garrity. “I can appreciate their concerns, but we don’t use large trucks or operate like those places do. It appears that by canceling our lease, Veteran Compost is the collateral damage because it’s easier than stopping operations at the pits.”

The cautionary tale for other composting facilities is leasing land for a site versus owning it. “I always thought renting land was the best idea,” he says. We lost 6 years of opportunity cost. Veteran Compost is now working with a number of folks on purchasing land. If we had started out on our own land for the Anne Arundel County facility, we probably would have been up and running much sooner, and avoided what has turned out to be a bureaucratic calamity.”

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