Crook gets tons of animal waste, explores solutions
By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: March 10. 2007 5:00AM PST
PRINEVILLE – Six months after Redmond Tallow Co. closed its doors, Crook County officials are still looking for a long-term solution for disposing of animal carcasses and byproducts from around Central Oregon.
Following the shutdown of the plant – Oregon’s last meat rendering facility – in October, the Crook County Landfill got a one-year permit from the state Department of Environmental Quality to allow it to accept animal waste. Since then, it has averaged an intake of 87,000 pounds of carcasses a month, which is equivalent to about 90 cows, officials said.
Now, the Crook County Court is considering buying a $700,000 machine that uses a chemical reaction to condense and disinfect animal materials. Oregon State University’s Crook County Extension Service is helping the county research the equipment.
“We’re looking into this new operation to try and make it a long-term situation instead of just a year operation,” Landfill Director Alan Keller said. “This was kind of an emergency type of permit that we have right now, so we’re trying to get it permitted for a full-time operation because there definitely is a need for it.”
At its last meeting, the County Court discussed the possibility of sending a team to Colorado State University to study a similar machine used there.
The chemical reaction is called alkaline hydrolysis, said Barbi Riggs, Central Oregon livestock agent with the Crook County Extension office. The machine the county is researching could take 4,000 pounds of animal products at one time, separate the liquids and solids and reduce the material to a 1,600-pound solid block.
“That end product is completely sterile of all pathogens,” Riggs said, including the agents that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, and chronic wasting disease. “We don’t have a lot of that in our environment, but in the event that that ever does get to this part of the nation, we would have a machine to take care of it.”
Right now, the special permit for the landfill allows it to take dead animals, which must be buried in a separate pit, Keller said. The fee is $5 per animal plus a weight fee – $25 per ton for those in county and $30 per ton for out of county.
“It creates more handling costs for us right at the moment, and we’re having to dig extra pits for doing them,” Keller said. “Hopefully we’ll get something resolved that will be kind of a money-making operation that we can use the byproducts and resell them and cover some of the costs.”
When Redmond Tallow announced it was closing, DEQ officials worried that farmers would bury or dump animals on open land, possibly contaminating local watersheds and attracting scavengers. They also said that the landfill would have to take special measures with the animal products to prevent moisture from leaching and to aid the breakdown of organic materials, such as treating them with lime.
Keller said that the products people have been dropping off at the landfill are about evenly split between carcasses and butcher waste. Most of the products come from Crook County, with about one-third from Deschutes County and a small amount from Jefferson County, he said.
The landfill does not keep records on the number of animals making up the 87,000 pounds dropped off every month, but Keller pointed out that adult cows usually weigh about 1,000 pounds.
Riggs, of the extension service, said she is also exploring other options to find a permanent solution. One would be composting – mixing the materials with wood chips or straw to break down – but Riggs said that would be “our last choice” because of the smell and location issues. Another option would be contracting with companies in Washington or California to haul the waste there, but that would be expensive and the companies might not be able to accommodate all of the products.
The private sector
Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said he has also heard from some people in the community about interest in opening another private plant, which he called a “preferred alternative.” But he added that both land use and DEQ regulations for a rendering plant pose significant obstacles.
Riggs added that she thinks it would take three to five years for a private company to pass the regulatory hurdles required for a new plant.
Redmond Tallow closed its rendering facility in October after years of complaints from neighbors about smells and possible groundwater contamination. The company cooked down carcasses, scraps and restaurant grease into a substance that could be used in animal food.
One of the company’s owners, Carl Cacho, is continuing to operate a carcass pickup service, and he said that all of the previous disposal options for butcher shops and restaurants are still available through companies that truck materials to other locations out of state.
“That’s just the cost of doing business – it costs a lot of money to render, it costs a lot of money to ship it, everything, so it just got turned around and unfortunately the businessman, the rancher, the stores, they’re having to pay for it,” Cacho said. He added that the out-of-state companies charge about $250 to pick up and dispose of the same amount of material for which Redmond Tallow used to charge $60.
The Cacho family has owned Redmond Tallow since 1970, and there had been a rendering facility on the site on the O’Neil Highway north of Redmond for more than 70 years. Eventually, a residential neighborhood grew in around the plant, causing problems.
Charles Cook said he has lived about 800 feet from the plant for 13 years.
“What it’s like, all of the neighbors will tell you, is disconcerting to say the least,” Cook said. “During the week time when they melt down dead rotting animals and carcasses, the air for upwards of at least a half a mile in every direction becomes extremely pungent with the most distasteful odors you could ever imagine.”
He added that he is in favor of Central Oregon getting a new rendering plant, but said it needs to be “way out in the middle of nowhere” so that residential growth does not become a problem.
“I have nothing but a positive outlook about recycling dead animal waste and a tallow facility,” he said. “It’s absolutely essential and it’s a very good business to be in, but it should not be mixed in land use in residential neighborhoods – it’s an extreme conflict.”
Cacho said that when he looked into moving the facility a few years ago the cost would have been at least $12 million. He said he has had some interest in buying the plant’s equipment and he hopes to eventually sell off the building and the surrounding 40 acres.
Exploring alkaline hydrolysis
Now county officials will work with extension agents and the U.S. Department of Agriculture about sending a team to Colorado State University to study the alkaline hydrolysis machine there. Cooper said the team would probably consist of representatives from the extension service, Crook County Landfill, DEQ, Deschutes County and a butcher shop in Prineville.
If the County Court decides to go ahead with the plan, Cooper said, officials would begin pursuing grants from USDA, Oregon Economic Development and the federal Department of Homeland Security. He added that the commissioners might ask Deschutes County to apply for grants for a second machine.
“If Deschutes County decided not to do that then we may want to limit the intake of material to Crook County residents only, or Deschutes County may want to purchase their own machine and put it at their landfill,” Cooper said.
Riggs said that she wants to learn more about disposal of the liquid and solid end products of the process. She said the liquid could possibly be evaporated as steam or used to fertilize irrigated crops, and the solid could be put into the landfill or made into compost.
“There’s more investigation that needs to be done – I’m not saying that’s the best option but it is an option that we’re looking at,” she said. “It seems like a pretty promising solution, but, you know, it’s for a small scale. It’s not a facility that we could take statewide material, so it’s really a county solution.”