Wasting Away

SHERMAN – Due to New York state Department of Environmental Conservation permitting restrictions, a local businessman has sold his $100,000 compost turner and the machine has left Chautauqua County.

Greg Rater, owner of Slab City Organics located at 8777 Kidder Road in Sherman, sold the compost turner in April due to DEC permitting restrictions that limited his maximum allowance of food waste that he can accept at the facility, despite the fact that food waste and organic matter were going to be the main components of his composting method.

“I hoped that once I purchased this machine (the DEC) would see that I was serious about the project,” Rater said.

Rater began composting as a side project more than 15 years ago at his home in Sherman.

“I grew up on a farm across the street,” Rater said. “On this property, I spent 11 years making a 50/50 mix of half compost, half top soil.”

Rater explained that for more than a decade, he returned home from work and began his second job – working his compost piles – until dark.

“It’s a slow process, but these were the resources I could use to move forward. Everything was bought and paid for personally,” Rater said.

Rater’s initial compost piles were strictly farm waste. By 2008, approximately 30,000 yards of compost had been properly aged and were ready to sell.

By selling the soil he had spent over a decade cultivating, Rater hoped to fund an expansion of his business, including pouring a concrete pad that would allow the composting process to occur more quickly and having area residents and businesses participate in the environmentally friendly composting process by bringing organic food waste to the facility.

“The plan was to charge a $15 tipping fee for organic waste at first, until I could upgrade the facility,” Rater said. “Then, I wanted for people to be able to bring waste here free of charge. I eventually wanted to move towards a 100 percent compost soil, something like Miracle-Gro.”

Currently, the Chautauqua County landfill transfer station in Ellery is charging $28 per ton for similar waste. There is no organic material recycling facility in the county.

According to the proposal for the $1 million expansion, the project was planned without any use of taxpayer dollars or government grants.

“Not many businesses can say that,” Rater said about his facility’s self-sufficiency.

In order to purchase the compost turner and make updates to his property throughout the years, Rater always put his skills to work. By purchasing the land surrounding Slab City Organics as it became available, Rater was been able to build and sell multiple properties for a profit and retain timber rights on the land.

In 2008, Rater’s composting operation was officially registered as Slab City Organics. It was at this time that he began selling his soil and applied for a permit to bring in waste to use in his operation – a process that took over five years.

“People don’t understand how hard it is to get something like this,” Rater said. “It’s not acceptable to have to wait over five years to get permitted.”

During this five-year interim, Rater was unable to expand his business according to plan, leaving his windrow turner unused.

Effective on Dec. 16, 2013, Rater was permitted by the DEC to operate a solid waste management facility to compost food scraps, food processing waste, waste paper and cardboard, unadulterated wood, farm waste and yard waste. The maximum daily amount of material he was permitted to accept was 90 tons per day, with an annual limit of 16,000 tons per year.

According to Rater, the limit of 16,000 tons excludes all food waste. The permit specifically notes that Rater is limited to 1,000 cubic yards, roughly 1,000 tons, of food scraps per year.

“That is the amount the county landfill is taking in every day,” Rater said. “There’s no way that I could build a business on that amount.”

In the proposal, Rater requested a short-term exemption from New York Codes, Rules and Regulations Part 360-5.6(b), which limits a facility to 1,000 cubic yards of source-separated organic waste per year and requires the facility to be permitted in order to accept food processing waste.

According to documents from the DEC, Rater’s process was “not an acceptable means to compost.”

“The windrow turner is the only way to do the process efficiently,” Rater said. “I wanted to bring in 60,000-80,000 tons of waste within a five-to-10-year period.”

Rater also said that although 60,000 tons of waste sounds like a significant amount, 50 percent of all waste brought in would be lost in the process.

Despite various conversations with county government officials, including state Sen. Catharine Young and Assemblyman Andy Goodell, and the DEC, Rater was unable to persuade the DEC to permit him to bring in larger quantities of organic waste, making his compost turner unnecessary. Financially, it did not make sense for Rater to keep the unused machine.

While discussing the issue with Rater, he suggested a change in procedure of the permitting process.

“It would be nice to have an environmental board, some component between the DEC and citizens,” Rater said.

According to Rater, he has future plans to initiate conversations about the creation of such a board.

The DEC did not respond to numerous inquiries about the decision.

Slab City Organics is currently selling the 50/50 mix of top soil and compost for $25 per yard. Delivery is available Monday through Saturday for a fee.

For more information about Slab City Organics, call 761-6517 or visit justgooddirt.com.