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Sunday, May 19 2013 9:21 PM EDT2013-05-20 01:21:36 GMT
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Saturday, May 18 2013 9:25 PM EDT2013-05-19 01:25:46 GMT
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Saturday, May 18 2013 9:09 PM EDT2013-05-19 01:09:50 GMT
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AMARGOSA VALLEY, Nev. -- Each week, 12,000 gallons of foul, gooey kitchen grease is trucked from Las Vegas restaurants to the rural community of Amargosa Valley, next door in Nye County.
A businessman says he is performing a public service by trying to recycle tons of trapped grease, turning it into bio-fuel or a feed additive for livestock. But to the people who live near the grease pit, the operation is one big stink.
If you've ever worked in a kitchen or have ever cleaned out a grease trap, you know how foul that gunk can be. Imagine then a couple of acres of ooze and the smell it would generate. The people who live near the operation say they feel trapped in their homes and largely abandoned by governments which should be regulating something like this.
Like most of the 1,200 residents of Amargosa Valley, Skip Piffer moved there for the clean air and elbow room. He and his neighbors say their quality of life has tanked as an odd menagerie has grown over the past few years. It purports to be a recycling plant for kitchen grease collected from 300 Las Vegas restaurants. The gritty brown grease is poured into large, open tanks where heat from the sun separates reusable oil.
On any given day, it flat out stinks.
"It smells like something is dead. That's what it smells like," he said.
"I live about a mile away. On a nice quiet night it, smells like somebody dumped their toilet in the backyard," said resident Jim Thomas.
Or maybe worse. In the largest of the holding tanks, the grease is so thick they use little tractors to move it around. In other, more watery tanks, islands of congealed gunk drift along, inviting birds or other critters to pop in.
At several points, goop from the grease pit pours out into the soil. A lot of it gets loaded into dumpster and hauled to a landfill.
"I don't know what kind of fees the county is getting for this, but all this stuff out on the ground is a violation of the law," said resident John Bosta.
The locals are worried what the grease might be doing to their water supply. And since it's smack in the middle of a wash, they envision floodwaters spreading the goo all over their valley.
But it's the foul stench that bothers them most. Half a mile from the grease pit, the Piffer's feel trapped.
"You open the door and that's how you know if you can go out or not. We can't leave the windows open anymore. We're in prison," said Veronica Piffer.
A mile from the grease is an organic pistachio orchard, whose owner is reportedly concerned if his absorbent crop will be affected. They can't smell the grease every day, but there are enough bad ones that property owners couldn't sell if they wanted to.
"Looking at the property, they said, 'We don't want to buy anything near that place,'" said resident Tona Renegar.
Residents have complained to Nye County officials but got nowhere. Nye has no zoning and regulations of all kinds are loose, which is a primary reason the owner chose this location, and its why the Nye County Commission ruled in July that the complaints don't rise to the level of a public nuisance.
So the neighbors went elsewhere.
"I was out there. It's horrible," said Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo.
After Sheriff DeMeo got a noseful for himself, he researched county law and then had his deputies start citing the truckers hauling in the grease because they have no hauling permits.
"We're gonna make sure that operation gets legal and is less of a blight on the community than it is now. Those poor people out there are suffering," he said.
The company is called, oddly enough, A Honey Wagon. Honey it isn't. Owner Mike Kostelac operates out of his home in Las Vegas.
He says his plant is performing a valuable service by recycling waste that might otherwise be dumped in a landfill. Kostelac admits he doesn't have a solid waste permit, but says Nye County doesn't have a process for giving him one.
In the past few weeks, other regulatory agencies have taken an interest though. Kostelac's permit for a well was obtained with paperwork that said he was building a two bedroom house, not a commercial plant. The Nevada Division of Water Resources is now investigating.
Corners may have been cut with the septic tank too and with OSHA codes. Kostelac says he will try to secure a solid waste permit but that there isn't much he can do about the smell, which he thinks the neighbors are exaggerating.
"I'd like to say to Mayor Goodman, what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas. He brings it out here 120 miles," said Skip Piffer.
State officials have now been prompted into making several inspection trips to the site and say they will get it into compliance one way or another.
Kostelac says he tried using chemicals to disperse the smell, but they didn't work and became too expensive. He expects to stay in business because recycling all that grease is a lot better than dumping it in a landfill.