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Smell From Egg Ranches Is Still Foul : Odors: Officials in Fillmore say efforts to clear the air haven’t cracked the problem.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fillmore officials are still struggling to clear the air with two Moorpark egg ranches whose operations send foul odors wafting through their city each summer.

Ventura County air quality officials say the stench from Egg City and Eggs West, where 3 1/2 million chickens produce 410 tons of manure each day, has been reduced since the ranches pledged last year to take steps to control odors.

But Fillmore residents who live only a breeze away disagree.

“They claim they have improved. But we’re having the same odors we had a year ago and a year before that,” Councilwoman Delores Day said. “Whatever is happening is not sufficient to minimize the odors.”

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Day said she intends to meet with a poultry specialist who reviewed the way manure is handled at both egg ranches several months ago to find out what is going wrong. Although the odors may never completely go away, city officials say they are no longer willing to close their eyes and pinch their noses to the problem.

Egg City once was the largest egg producer in the world, and its chickens have been laying eggs in Moorpark since 1960. Eggs West arrived four years later.

Although there have always been some complaints from Fillmore, eight miles away from the ranches, residents became more vocal five years ago, when growth in the city began taking off.

Warm breezes in the eastern end of the Santa Clara Valley usually carry the scent of orange blossoms. But they also bring odors of chicken manure that drift down Grimes Canyon in waves so strong “it makes your eyes water,” said real estate broker Mary L. Taylor.

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She said visiting house hunters often flee after taking several whiffs. “They would say, ‘It must be unpleasant to live here,’ and they leave,” she said.

Normally, state health and air quality laws would require businesses that foul the air to install pollution-control devices. But the laws exempt egg ranches because they are agricultural operations.

When complaints escalated last summer, county environmental officials entered the fray, trying to negotiate a settlement that would satisfy both sides. A non-binding agreement was reached that Egg City and Eggs West must spread their manure in thin beds and prevent manure from piling up, allowing bacteria and foul odors to flourish.

For their part, officials at the two ranches say they are doing a good job of dealing with a smelly problem and are following county recommendations. They said employees clean the coops daily and spread the manure to sun-dry it before it is sold as farm fertilizer. Last year, the two companies produced about 146,000 tons of manure, selling it for $6.50 a ton.

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Company officials contend that it is the Fillmore weather, not chickens, that makes the problem difficult to solve.

University of California poultry specialist Donald Bell inspected Egg City, which produces 85% of the ranches’ manure, last summer and determined that workers were storing the chicken waste properly by spreading it in thin beds.

“The system we’ve been using is the system we’ve used all along,” Egg City Chief Executive Richard Carrott said.

Less than a mile down Grimes Canyon Road, at Eggs West, Bell recommended that the ranch change its operations and begin drying the manure in beds, a practice it had not been using. Eggs West took Bell’s advice and spent $150,000 on heavy equipment to sun-dry the manure, Manager Ron Thomas said.

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Tom Berg, director of the Ventura County Resource Management Agency, said county officials three weeks ago inspected the ranches and that the problem has improved. But, Berg said, it is unlikely that Fillmore residents will see the odor problem go away as long as the egg ranches are in business.

“Short of making egg ranches cease to exist, the smell couldn’t be completely done away with,” Berg said. “You have a classic example of urban areas and agricultural areas, and they don’t have the same view of the world.”

Fillmore officials say the problem is the egg ranches’ inability to remove the manure. Last summer, city officials took to the air to get a bird’s-eye view of the manure handling process. They thought they detected a problem.

“They were doing a very good job with their chicken droppings, but part of it had been stockpiled” in mounds, Day said.

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Day said she suspects that the ranches are still storing the manure in large piles rather than spreading it.

Despite reports of improved odors at Egg City and Eggs West, people in Fillmore say they are bracing themselves for another season of stench. Residents are already shutting their windows tight, moving outdoor parties indoors and turning on air conditioners to full blast, resident Daryl Vest said.

Some say the smell is the keenest in the morning, although a list of complaints lodged with the city between April and July of 1989 indicated that the odors persisted throughout the day.

At the Elkins Ranch Golf Course, which is even closer to the ranches than Fillmore is, “golfers leave before it gets bad,” said Terry Taylor, an instructor at the golf course.

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Taylor (who is not related to Mary L. Taylor) said he has become accustomed to the smell, primarily because the manure also is spread in citrus orchards surrounding the golf course.

Fillmore Councilman Roger Campbell said the city should not be forced to put up with odors that are offensive to many visitors and residents.

“If we’re still smelling chickens eight miles away, then I don’t think they’ve done much,” Campbell said. “If they don’t do something, I’m going to push for the city to sue Egg City and make them come into compliance because they’re destroying our way of life.”


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