The annual fouling of the air in Fillmore has generated so many complaints this year that a slew of government agencies are investigating the source of the evil odor.
With 4 million chickens just 10 miles down the road near Moorpark, all eyes, fingers and noses are pointed at Egg City and Eggs West, vast egg ranches whose managers are at a loss to explain the unsavory smell.
But the smell itself is hard to deny.
"We have never had it for this length of time, or this intensity, or this widespread," said Fillmore Mayor Delores Day, who added that the problem has cropped up in the heat of the summer for years.
"There's absolutely no reason we should have to live with this," said Ima Jean Vest, a Fillmore resident who has been monitoring the problem since May. She believes that May and June were particularly bad, and complained of having to close her windows. "You just can't stand the smell in your house."
'Sick to My Stomach'
Edith Haas, who lives in a mobile home park in east Fillmore, claims that she experiences sinus difficulty because of the strong smell. "We're down here along the river and it comes in on the wind. One day I even got sick to my stomach."
City Councilman Roger Campbell has reported receiving an increasing number of complaints from residents over the past year. "It's definitely affecting the quality of life here," he said.
In an effort to track down the smell's origin, representatives of the city and Ventura County's Planning Department, Air Pollution Control District and Environmental Health Department are to meet today with officials of both egg ranches. Assemblyman Jack O'Connell (D-Carpinteria) has also been invited.
The session closes an information-gathering period that began after an initial meeting June 15. According to Tom Berg, director of the county's Resources Management Agency, the intent is "to check for an obvious correlation between ranch practices and odor incidents."
Weather patterns may also be a factor, and are being monitored, officials said.
Both Eggs West manager Ron Thomas and Egg City owner Rick Carrott steadfastly maintain that little has changed in their operations over the last 10 years. They said they cannot explain how their respective facilities could be contributing to the recent rash of complaints.
While practices may differ on the two ranches, the general policy is to clean the chicken houses daily and sun-dry the manure before fertilizer companies from as far away as Bakersfield haul the residue away, they said.
Used by Vegetable Growers
Local application of the fertilizer is not a likely suspect in creating a major odor problem. Thomas believes that the product is used most often in Ventura County by vegetable growers, who disk the manure into the soil as soon as it is spread. According to Agricultural Commissioner W. Earl McPhail, farming in the Fillmore region is almost exclusively citrus, where use of chicken manure is not widespread.
Both egg operations have scrambled to disavow responsibility for the noxious aroma.
The chicken population at Eggs West is 500,000, while there are 3 1/2 million at Egg City. Given Eggs West's size, "we don't feel that we are the major contributor," Thomas said.
Carrott believes that Egg City has its odor problem under control with state-of-the-art practices. He suggested that Egg City might be capable of odor-free operation if given a chance to implement new technology that it has conceived.
"We would have to be allowed to spend money on improvements, rather than defending ourselves in legal battles," he said.
Carrott expressed a willingness to work with Fillmore, although he said urbanization of the area creates inevitable conflict with agriculture.
The legal basis for forcing either egg ranch to change its practices is not clear-cut, according to county officials.
Exempt From Standards
While the Air Pollution Control District is the normal channel for such complaints, it is not empowered to act in this case because agriculture is exempt from odor pollution standards, Berg said.
Revising the ranches' use permits "is a long and cumbersome process," he said.
And rewriting legislation to include egg ranches would mean that Fillmore could wait a long time for the air to clear.
The egg ranchers, and city and county officials expressed hope that they could solve the problem. Day said Fillmore might make several proposals to the ranches depending on the outcome of today's meeting.