Township Raises Big Stink Over Lawsuit

Clinton Township halts business with Uni-Dig

August 31, 2012

By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer

CLINTON TOWNSHIP - The Board of Trustees voted Aug. 27 to no longer do business with Uni-Dig Inc.

The board had voted 5-2 on June 4 to sue the Clinton Township facility over noxious odors emanating from the composting operations during the last few years at its location on Quinn Road, near Gratiot.

"It just makes sense when you sue a company, you stop doing business with that company," said Township Treasurer Bill Sowerby, who, along with Trustee Joie West, asked the board to stop doing business with the company. "You're spending taxpayer dollars to sue, and then you're also spending taxpayer dollars to then do business."

Under the board's decision, the township halted purchases of topsoil, compost, crushed concrete and other products from Uni-Dig.

Rizzo Services, which the township contracts with to collect waste from residences, will stop taking composting from Clinton Township to Uni-Dig, said Township Supervisor Robert Cannon.

Doing business with other companies will likely cost the township more, as Uni-Dig provided a one-stop location to both dispose of and purchase materials at comparatively lower prices. The township was giving Uni-Dig between $15,000 and $20,000 worth of business annually, said Public Works Director Mary Bednar.

Sowerby said while the township will have to spend more money, there was also the impact to lifestyle and economics of the neighbors and businesses that reside near Uni-Dig.

Some township trustees said while they don't want to see Uni-Dig shut down, the odors have been a public nuisance during the last few years and need to stop.

Jay Schwartz, an attorney representing Uni-Dig, said members of the Board of Trustees were putting on an election-year "political show" by suing Uni-Dig.

He also noted the additional cost to the township.

Sowerby said while there would be an economic impact to the township, the businesses that reside in the area have been challenged by the regular odors emitted from the compost facility.

Schwartz acknowledged "occasional smells," which he said Uni-Dig has been trying to abate.

Uni-Dig hired OTI Industrial Services, an environmental assessment company, as part of a court order to abate the odor. The order came last summer, after Clinton Township cited the company for a violation of the township's noxious odor ordinance. After the problem persisted, the violation became a misdemeanor, for which Uni-Dig paid a fine.

After receiving a complaint, an OTI worker will check out the smell and try to track down the source, taking such factors as wind direction into account. If the odor is coming from Uni-Dig, OTI personnel recommend digging operations stop, and the facility spray an environmentally safe, organic deodorizer on the compost pile.

Schwartz said Uni-Dig has no plans to stop using OTI.

Schwartz also said that OTI determined that not all of the smells complained about come from Uni-Dig. And, he added, the impact of the smells was being blown out of proportion by residents trying to draw negative attention to Uni-Dig. Anyone living within seven-tenths of a mile from Uni-Dig stands to benefit from a separate class-action lawsuit filed against the company in an attempt to get money, he added.

Attorney Peter Macuga, who is representing the residents in the suit, said the claim that the residents are out for money is "both illogical and untrue."

"What they stand to gain from this lawsuit is getting rid of the odors," he added. "There is no way to know what the monetary relief would be, if any, but we know we will be seeking injunctive relief forever."

Township trustees discussed halting compost going into the facility, but continuing to make purchases from it. Ultimately, however, they unanimously voted to immediately discontinue all business after hearing concerns from a number of people who live near Uni-Dig.

The lineup of residents questioned the smell's impact on the health, quality of life, property values and economics of the residents and businesses that reside in that area.

Victoria Prout, who lives across Gratiot, on Electra Street, said the near constant, manure-like stench was diminished in June, but has since returned, permeating her house.

"My house stinks like a horse farm," she said. "My kids don't want to eat. They don't want to go outside. What do we do?"

Rashida Shack, a third-grade teacher at nearby Robbie Hall Parker Elementary School on Quinn Road, said she smells the stench coming from Uni-Dig every day. Her students have to smell it at recess, and some of the kids are becoming so used to the smell, they don't even smell it anymore, she said.

Rutherford Street resident Kurt Roehl also objected to tax dollars being paid to Uni-Dig.

"Sometimes doing the right thing costs you money in the short term, but the benefits gained over the long term are better," he said. "My family has not been able to enjoy our backyard on occasions throughout the years because of the smell that comes from there. ... (The smell) is here 24/7."

In the meantime, the township is pursuing its own lawsuit in Macomb County Circuit Court. The lawsuit states that Uni-Dig has a May 2011 violation with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality over the volume of the composting pile.