What’s that smell? Rancho Cordova residents bothered by animal rendering odor

Sacramento Bee file

It’s a complicated, smelly problem with no obvious or inexpensive solution.

The edge of the Kavala Ranch development in Rancho Cordova is about 1 mile down Kiefer Boulevard from the Sacramento Rendering Company’s meat processing plant. An unsettling odor wafts over from time to time, particularly when the wind blows from a southerly direction.

Kavala Ranch is one of many development projects in the Sunrise Boulevard and Douglas Road area, which is expected to house tens of thousands of residents by the time it’s fully built out. As more homes have gone in and new residents have arrived, complaints about the odor have increased. Residents are convening a community meeting to air their concerns at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Sunrise Elementary School.

Despite millions of dollars’ worth of air scrubbers and other odor-eliminating equipment, some residents say the stench can get so strong it disrupts outdoor gatherings. But their safety is the larger issue, said Kavala Ranch resident Tim Trono.

“It really goes beyond the smell,” Trono said. “The smell is the thing that’s the most obvious problem to people.”

Officials from the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District said in their opinion, the plant doesn’t pose a toxic risk for the community, though they understand why residents are asking questions.

The management district said the rendering plant follows federal, state and local air pollution control regulations and is frequently inspected. Dave Grose, the manager of the district’s Stationary Source Division, said each piece of rendering plant equipment that produces air pollutants has a permit from the district, which allows for regular inspection.

If this type of facility generated toxic pollutants, they would be tested for, said Larry Greene, the district’s executive director.

The plant collects three types of meat waste – trimmings from grocery store butchers, used cooking grease from 4,500 Sacramento area restaurants and dead livestock, such as cows that fall dead in the field. The company’s service area runs from around Fresno to the Oregon border.

The meat byproducts are recycled – ground up, cooked and turned into dog food, poultry feed, tallow and biodiesel. The company’s tagline is “French fries to fuel.”

“All the chemicals that are used are approved by the air districts or the water district … or Cal EPA,” Sacramento Rendering Company President Michael Koewler said. “Agencies have oversight on what chemicals can be used to treat any potential emittance from the facility.”

There are no chemicals in the air coming out of the facility, he said. Exhaust air from the rendering process is burned in an oxidizer, which incinerates the organic compounds that cause odors. The air is then run through a cooling process before being released.

The air quality district said there’s a long history of complaints about the smell, which peaked in 2007 and then picked back up recently, officials said.

The history of odor complaints stretches back decades. In fact, the plant is where it is today because angry Land Park residents forced it out of their neighborhood in 1955, when Land Park was the edge of Sacramento.

At the time, no one expected development to expand all the way to the plant’s current location near the county landfill and the former Mather Air Force Base, which was fully operational when the rendering plant moved in. When the Sunrise Douglas development plan went before the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors in 2002, Koewler warned the supervisors and developers about the smell, but the plan went through anyway.

After some litigation between the plant and the developers, developers helped fund some improvements to the plant, including air scrubbers. Koewler said even with the improvements, he read the writing on the wall and knew it was time for another move.

“There’s nobody who wants to move more than I do,” Koewler said.

The problem is that’s not as easy as it sounds, particularly for a family-owned business, he said. Koewler is the fourth generation of Koewlers to run the Sacramento Rendering Company, founded in 1913.

He estimated it will cost $30 million to $35 million to move the plant, which the company does not have on hand. The Sacramento Rendering Company owns about 800 acres around the facility. The family hopes to sell that land for development and use the proceeds to fund the move. The planning process for the land around the plant was initiated in 2011 and submitted to the Board of Supervisors in February 2012 as the NewBridge Master Plan.

Several other landowners are involved in the plan, including the Vulcan Minerals site south of the plant. The project, which encompasses 1,095 acres, is currently in the environmental document preparation phase.

Koewler said the company is vetting possible sites for a new plant, but the move will likely not happen for years.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison