By Bob Balgemann
BELVIDERE – The Illinois Environmental Protection (IEPA) has approved renewal of the current operating permit for Garden Prairie Organics, along with various modifications to the permit and operating plan “to accurately reflect operations at the site.”
In a letter to Boone County, addressed to “sir or madam,” an agency official stated the permit would expire April 30, 2017. The most recent renewal was for five years, according to County Administrator Ken Terrinoni.
He told the health and human services committee June 4 he was told by IEPA official Derek Rompot that “they didn’t think they could just pull the plug” on the composting company. “They’re allowing it to continue but for a shorter period of time.”
Complaints about odor and the size of composting piles have been the primary concerns from nearby residents of the unincorporated area.
“When it’s bad, it’s really bad,” committee member Sherry Giesecke said.
But another committee member, Raymond Larson, who lives in Garden Prairie, near the plant, said the smell “has been better.” And when it came to enforcement of the IEPA operating permit or the county’s special use permit, he said, “All they can do is issue a notice of violation.”
“The (state) Attorney General is the only one who can do anything,” he added.
“I don’t think they’re ready for that step yet,” Terrinoni said of the IEPA notifying the Attorney General’s office.
He said had received a copy of the Garden Prairie Organics file from the IEPA. “That was quite a process,” he said of making the request under the Freedom of Information Act. “We do it easy around here.”
Of the file, he said, “It’s huge.”
Complaining is suggested
Committee member Sherry Branson said she would have a large number of neighbors of the company call IEPA and complain about the smell. “If they’re enough of an irritant, something might happen,” she said.
There was no support from the committee for that course of action.
The letter, from Stephen Nightengale, manager of the Permit Section of IEPA’s Bureau of Land, the allowable amount of “bulking agent storage” had been increased from 10,000 cubic yards to 20,000 cubic yards.
“The increase … does not increase the annual throughput of landscape waste being purchased by Garden Prairie Organics,” he wrote. The company still is limited to “an annual output of 330,000 cubic yards of combined landscape waste and additives.
The increase in the amount of bulking storage is to ensure that an appropriate mixture of bulking agent to landscape waste is available to obtain the proper conditions for aerobic composting.”
Terrinoni had suggested bringing in the additional material “will help with the odor problem.”
The county was on record as opposing renewal of the company’s operating permit, through a letter from county board Chairman Bob Walberg dated March 18.
The letter stated in part, that the county’s special use permi, issued September 21, 2009, had 15 conditions. While nuisances from odor and dust are part of Condition No. 7, he wrote, “The county has no ability to enforce the special use without the IEPA.
“Odor problems come and go for various reasons and we must rely on the word of the neighboring residents regarding how the facility affects the neighborhood. In hindsight, we should not have approved the special use permit given its location (near homes) in Garden Prairie.”
Walberg suggested the IEPA complete a full review of the Garden Prairie Organics’ business operation and disclose how it will properly regulate it, if the permit is renewed.”
Nightengale’s letter stated the agency was aware of ongoing issues with the composting facility. “Please be aware that the permitting process and enforcement of the permit and the regulations are two independent processes.”
While enforcement against the company is ongoing, he said, the IEPA was not allowed to use permit issuance “as an enforcement tool. But the conditions of the permit have been modified to clarify how the facility must be operated to insure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”

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