Pleasant Grove and American Fork have filed charges of massive damages and requested a jury trial over so-called "humanure." If successful, the lawsuit will force a fee increase for all residents of north Utah County.
The lawsuit was filed in 4th District Court on Tuesday by the members of Citizens For Clean Air And Progress, including Pleasant Grove City, American Fork City, BMW of Pleasant Grove, the American Fork Chamber of Commerce, Stewart's RV and others. The suit alleges the Timpanogos Special Service District "is engaged in the business of processing and selling compost made from the human waste sludge referred to in the composting industry as 'humanure.'"
Composing has caused property value loss and loss of tax revenue of $75 million "plus cumulative future losses in excess of $350 million," according to the suit. Plaintiffs are seeking damages "in an amount to be determined at trial," an injunction to halt composting and attorney's fees.
North county residents -- through their sewer fees -- have already spent $5 million to reduce the stink for nearby businesses that have encroached on the treatment plant. Land that was decades ago considered the perfect home for sewage has now become valuable real estate because it is near a freeway exit and because centralized land is harder to come by. The only way to make the smell truly vanish is for local homeowners to see a big-time spike in their monthly sewer fees -- perhaps $5 or $6 a month in perpetuity to ship the waste to a landfill.
County Commissioner Larry Ellertson said on Tuesday that he was unaware the group had filed suit. County commissioners are named in the suit because they oversee the sewer district.
"Because of the nature of the lawsuit we're not going to be able to say a whole lot about it," he said. "I'm sad and disappointed in it, and I think there are other ways to work on it. I think there has been much progress made and continued to be made."
At the sewer plant, hundreds of tons of human waste are mixed with chopped leaves and wood and grass clippings and composted in rows that are 160 feet long, 24 feet wide and 10 feet tall, according to the lawsuit, a copy of which was provided to the Daily Herald.
As the district "creates the humanure by cooking, turning over and mixing the compost mixture," it emits "substantial, obnoxious and foul odors through several miles of surrounding commercial and residential areas," reads the lawsuit. "As the foul odor permeates the surrounding areas, it regularly causes physical illness among residents, workers and visitors. In fact, this dangerous and foul odor has forced numerous persons to take sick days, closed entire offices, and forced the cancellation of numerous meetings and events due to the adverse health effects and unpleasant nature of the odor. Hundreds of citizen complaints have been registered with the district."
In addition, the odor has stunted development and hurt property values.
"For example, commercial building owners have greater difficulty leasing their spaces, lease rates are lower than they otherwise would be, and tenants have either left or have threatened to leave if the odor continues to plague the area," reads the lawsuit.
By allowing the district's activities, Utah County has violated state codes, the suit alleges. Representatives have been improperly appointed and "the illegally appointed representatives have refused to address the unlawful effects" of composting and "have effectively pushed development away from Pleasant Grove and American Fork."