Updated 10:07 a.m. May 14
Frustrations were high at a March 25 meeting about the Organics Recycling Facility in Shakopee. as neighbors aired grievances over nuisances like smell, noise, dust and possible health effects.
News of the meeting surprised some residents who live near the ORF.
“We were shocked,” said Casey Wollschlager, a developer with Summergate Companies, LLC. “We couldn’t believe the article. We thought it was crazy.”
Wollschlager said in the five years his company has built homes in the area, he has received questions about the facility from prospective buyers but has never heard any complaints from residents to whom he sold homes.
Some neighbors felt the situation was blown out of proportion.
“It just smells,” said Chidinma Njoku, a resident who said she didn’t have any concerns about her family’s health.
For others, however, health has become a primary concern.
“A lot of people were offended at the sight of the thing,” said Diane Stang, a resident who attended the meeting at the Shakopee Police Department. “I don’t care about that. I care about how it’s affecting our health.”
Stang said she gets a sore throat and itchy eyes, and her son Tony Zierman has severe allergies they believe are a direct result of the air quality near the composting plant.
“I’m worried about the groundwater. We all use wells,” said Chris Sifferle, who did not attend the meeting but has supported past efforts to reduce irritating side effects from the facility. Sifferle said he has had his water tested and it was deemed safe, but he still expressed some reservation.
Residents at the meeting shared examples of more severe health issues that other members of the community had experienced, but most were hesitant to tie them to the ORF, as there was no data available to support those connections.
“Really, it’s just a nuisance,” Sifferle said. “I get it, they want to be good stewards of the land.”
Sifferle still shares neighborhood concerns about how nuisances affect residents.
“You know, you worry about resale,” he said.
Many neighbors echoed Sifferle’s concern about property value, but according to the Scott County Property Information website, resale has not been drastically affected since the recycling facility opened in 2011, and according to County Assessor Michael Thompson, properties in the area have increased in assessed value about 12 to 13 percent. This estimate includes any individual improvements, but value increase is primarily based on sales.
“We react to the sales,” Thompson said. “When our assessed values are under what properties are selling for, we increase the value.”
According to Thompson, sales that differ enough from the assessed value not only affect that home’s value but also other homes in the area.
“Before making adjustments for externalities, outside things affecting property values like railroads or power lines, we’re going to look at sales and react to sales. We don’t immediately adjust any property values,” Thompson said.
Wollschlager said to his knowledge the facility has had no effect on his company’s sales in the area. He expressed concern that if sales are affected in the coming months, it would more due to press attention than to the facility itself.
“I’ve been out there at least 100 times in the last four or five years, and I only smelled something once,” Wollschlager said.
The smell is the most common complaint among residents.
“I support the mission of the facility. However, the smell can be really horrible,” resident Heidi Graf said. “It’s what you would think organic recycling would smell like.”
“People always ask if we smell it,” said Bruce Finke, a neighbor just east of the facility. “It doesn’t bother us that much, and we live pretty close.”
Finke said he didn’t think the facility caused any health effects.
“It’s pretty much like living by a farm sometimes when the manure wafts,” he said.
“It’s a sweet putrid odor,” Graf said. “It’s a bummer when I have to close my windows when it’s nice outside.”
Graf said she doesn’t believe the rest of the city is affected by the smell. She had never heard the nickname “Stinkopee,” as some at the meeting claimed was a nickname some use for Shakopee, and she said her brother, who lives three miles away, has never smelled anything.
Graf said she did notice the dust, noise and vibrations that other residents complain about, but said she thinks the smell causes residents to pay attention to the other effects.
“If there were no odors, I’d have no complaints.”
The recycling facility has a complaint submission form on its website where residents can alert the facility of nuisances when they are being caused. Graf has not used this service, but many of the Neighbors vs. the ORF group members expressed doubt about its effectiveness.
ORF and EPA officials are scheduled to meet with neighbors sometime in May or June.
“Hopefully our meeting will be really productive,” said group organizer Paula Larson. Larson has organized a list of ways the ORF could improve its neighborliness.
Graf was hesitant about the inclusion of the EPA.
“I would be very hesitant to challenge tribal sovereignty. I think it would be more effective to approach any kind of desired change from a neighbor-to-neighbor model rather than trying to find an agency that has more power or influence in our government.”
The facility is operated by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, a reservation that is akin to a sovereign nation.
“I believe in negotiating in good faith,” Graf said. “They’ve been good neighbors, they’ve been very generous to our city and our community. They’re a sovereign nation and we should approach them as if they’re a sovereign nation.”
Larson said she realizes some suggestions will not be as practical as others, but she feels the need to express them.
“It’s what people are feeling,” she said.
Graf said while she agrees with the desire to improve the general quality of life in the area, she does not think it warrants strong emotions.
“It’s not enough to make me angry. It’s about solving a problem.”