2017-12-07 / Local News

Neighbors complain about coffee roasting, but state says facility is OK

Property is zoned commercial
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

While neighbors say trouble is brewing at Leelanau Coffee Roasting Company’s new roasting facility in Kasson Township, company owners say they are operating well within local zoning and state regulations.

Leelanau Coffee Roasting (LCR) has been roasting coffee in Glen Arbor since 1993. As demand grew so did the need for space for roasting, leading owners Steve and John Arens and Michael Buhler to move the production to Kasson Township.

LCR was issued a special land use permit in 2015 for its roasting facility, located in the former Maple Disposal building on East Kasson Road.

In addition to the 40-pound roaster that had been in used in Glen Arbor, LCR added a roaster capable of processing 300 pounds of coffee.

Roasting began onsite in August 2016, and township officials started receiving complaints about the smell.

“It’s like burned coffee and toast,” said township resident Marvin Grahn, who smells the roasting process from his home three quarters of a mile away on Tower Road. “It’s not good.”

In addition to the smell, Grahn and nearby neighbors are concerned that emissions coming from the commercial roaster could negatively impact their health.

Grahn pointed to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story in 2015 for which the daily newspaper took samples and analyzed the air within two Wisconsin coffee roasteries. The Sentinel’s coverage found levels of diacetyl in unflavored coffee exceeded safety standards proposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Diacetyl is an organic compound that is created naturally during certain cooking processes such as roasting.

However, the newspaper examined the levels of diacetyl faced by those working directly in roasting operations — not nearby residents.

Still, the story raised a red flag for those living in very-rural Kasson Township which is also home to Glen’s Landfill.

“There are toxins in that smell that could cause serious lung issues,” township resident Gerald Konczal said.

Fifteen township residents signed a petition asking Kasson Township to do something about the operation.

They also contacted the state Department of Environmental Quality, which inspected LCR on July 27. The visit resulted in a violation notice from the DEQ’s air quality division for installation and operation of “unpermitted coffee roasting equipment.”

However, the agency has since backed off after LCR engineers responded.

“They were able to show that they are able to operate using one of the exemptions to the Michigan Air Pollution Control Rules,” said Caryn Owens, environmental engineer with the DEQ’s Air Quality Division in Cadillac.

“The DEQ is satisfied that we don’t emit enough to require a permit,” Steve Arens said. “Even if we were roasting 24/7 we still couldn’t reach their (reporting) threshold.”

LCR roasts about 5,000 pounds of coffee each week that is distributed throughout Michigan and in Spartan and Meijer stores throughout the Midwest.

Furthermore, Arens said, it’s not been proven that LCR is the source of the odors.

“There have been several reports about us stinking things up and we weren’t even roasting,” he said. “It hasn’t been proven that the smell goes beyond our property boundary.”

Meanwhile, township residents say they’re frustrated by the process — from zoning to the state investigation of odors.

“It’s under commercial zoning when what it should really be is manufacturing, and food processing,” Konczal said. “We don’t have the zoning tight enough.”

The DEQ says it will continue to respond to odor complaints. But evidence of odors can be hard to track because they can be dissipated in wind before state officials can get to the township from Cadillac.

Regardless, Grahn continues to record the day and time of his odor observations.

Meanwhile, Kasson Township officials are working with a private consultant to test and monitor air coming out of the facility.

“We’re not done with this yet,” supervisor Greg Julian said.

“It’s a health and safety issue so we’re obligated to investigate.”

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