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Neighbors vent about oppressive odor But company says it isn't source of foul air

They talked of canceled summer parties, depreciating home values and stifling winter breezes.

A dozen homeowners complained to the Lancaster Town Board on Tuesday about the stinky smell wafting from Good Earth Organics Corp. at 5960 Broadway.

Residents who live near the soil and potting mix company said the property has emitted foul odors for years but that in the last few weeks, the smell has become intolerable.

"This is America," said Thomas McClary, who lives two doors from the company with his wife, Mary Ann. "We shouldn't have to breathe that filth."

Residents described the smell many ways, comparing it with "burned garbage" and "bitter cheese." The odor isn't always present, but on warm, still days, or when an eastern wind is blowing, nearby residents said the stench is awful.

"It's enough to gag you," said resident Richard Rozler, 64, who lives across from the company on Broadway.

Company owner Guenter Burkhardt strongly denied accusations that an odor was emanating from his property. He said he doesn't work on any compost during the winter months. Towering piles of peat moss and top soil closest to the Good Earth warehouse were odor-free during a visit Wednesday.

"We're not a company that's here today, gone tomorrow," said Burkhardt, who established the company in 1956. "We want to be good neighbors. We've been here a long time."

Good Earth is a booming corporate enterprise, with 10 plants scattered across the United States and Canada. Collectively, it ships out hundreds of thousands of tons of gardening soil products under more than half a dozen labels, including Schultz, Scotts, Hoffman, Sta-Green and Pioneer Southern.

Burkhardt said any odors that neighbors smell could be from the nearby Erie County highway barn in Lancaster, where debris from the October storm was piled.

But surrounding residents said they believe the smell is coming from older, decomposing piles of mulch on Burkhardt's property.

Timothy G. Krieb, 46, who works for the state Department of Transportation, said he has witnessed trucks taking wood chips from the Clarence Highway Department and dumping them on the east side of the Good Earth property.

Burkhardt said he has pine mulch but it does not smell as neighbors have described. A whiff of some sample mulch in his office simply smelled like pine.

While Burkhardt seems oblivious to any odor, few others are.

Town Supervisor Robert H. Giza said he, too, has smelled the odor on occasions when he has traveled out to St. Augustine Cemetery, where his mother is buried.

But he and other board members said if Good Earth's property is the problem, there is little they can do. The land is zoned agricultural-residential, and composting is permitted.

Giza said he and a member of the Lancaster Industrial Development Agency probably will meet with Burkhardt next week. Board members also promised to ask the state Department of Environmental Conservation to inspect the property and run air and water tests.

Burkhardt said he didn't mind. He said the DEC routinely inspects his property every three months and has never found any problems.


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