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Dirt Huggers finds new long-term location

Dirt Hugger owners Tyler Miller, left, and Pierce Louis, backed here by a mountain of the company's compost, are making plans to locate their business to a more permanent facility on land in the Dallesport Industrial Park.

Dirt Hugger owners Tyler Miller, left, and Pierce Louis, backed here by a mountain of the company's compost, are making plans to locate their business to a more permanent facility on land in the Dallesport Industrial Park. Photo by Kathy Ursprung.

After four years in short-term lodgings at the Port of The Dalles, Dirt Huggers commercial composting is close to securing a long-term lease of land for a more permanent facility at the Port of Klickitat’s Dallesport Industrial Park, east of Highway 197.

Dirt Huggers has had a month-to-month lease with the Port of The Dalles with the understanding that the business might have to move when it came time for more intensive development on the Chenoweth Business Park land. That development is now under way.

After a year and a half of searching, the company has pinned down a new, long-term location in the northern half of the Dallesport Industrial Park. They’re working on putting together their funding package now and hope that the Kickstarter campaign will help them fill in a $65,000 gap.

As of Wednesday morning, the site had already raised $3,090 from 29 donors.

“This business has been born, bred and grown through the tremendous support of our local community, government and businesses,” the Kickstarter page explains. “We used four different grants, borrowed equipment and reduced-rate land to get off the ground in 2010. Now we need your financial support to make sure that Dirt Hugger can keep composting in the gorge.”

The company has won three grants totaling $85,000 to help with the $400,000 moving cost, including one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture secured with the help of the Port of Klickitat.

“When Dirt Hugger approached the Port about locating at its Dallesport Industrial Park, they expressed some concern regarding the undeveloped nature of the property and the cost to improve it,” explained Marc Thornsbury, executive director of the Port of Klickitat. “So we took a look at some of the grant programs available to see if there was a good fit. To be accurate, we did not actually secure grant funding for Dirt Hugger itself. Instead, we worked with Klickitat County and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) to secure funds to assist us in preparing and improving the location to make it suitable for Dirt Hugger’s use. USDA Rural Development offers the Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) program that assists small and emerging businesses in rural areas.”

The Dirt Huggers site was a good fit for the program because Dirt Hugger supports local agriculture and the USDA’s goal for bio-based products.

They’ll also borrow $250,000 from local banks.

Approval of the final permit is expected soon, which will give the green light to start construction.

“This summer we should start construction,” said Pierce Louis, who owns the business in partnership with Tyler Lewis. “By fall we hope to be operational there.”

Once the Dallesport facility is completed, the company will begin to sell off its inventory in The Dalles.

“The incoming will discontinue here and start at the new site,” Lewis said.

“There will be no gaps for our customers,” Louis said.

“Dirt Hugger is a regional composting facility that processes yard, fruit and food waste into high quality, organic certified compost,” the company explained on Kickstarter. “Born in response to a 2010 study by Tri-Counties Recycling, Dirt Hugger has taken over 20,000 tons of material from restaurants, schools, fruit packing houses, and offices that previously went to the landfill. Over 10,000 yards of our compost has gone back out to fertilize the soils for cherry, pear, blueberry, apple and veggie farms throughout the gorge — often supplanting traditional chemical fertilizers. Hundreds of home gardeners also pump up their back yard food production with Dirt Hugger compost.”

Odor was occasionally an issue on Dirt Huggers’ existing site and was a primary reason the facility needed to move as the port works to attract tenants to the new business park, but the company was unable to install more costly odor control mechanisms without the assurance of a longer lease. That won’t be an issue in Dallesport, which will provide that long-term lease.

“We’re really excited about the new design,” Miller said. “It will be more efficient and have more capacity.”

“Odor is always an issue at a compost facility,” Louis added, “but we will be building in more odor controls.”

The end result should not only be less odor, but an improved, more consistent end product, Miller said.

The location will also play a role.

“Because the proposed location for the Dirt Hugger operation is in the northern half of the Port of Klickitat’s Dallesport Industrial Park, it is expected to have very little impact on other Port businesses, the vast majority of which are located in the southern half of the park,” Thornsbury noted. “As to the industry, we believe it complements the agribusiness already operating on the Dallesport Peninsula. Some, like the orchards in the area, stand to benefit directly from its operation while others, like The Dalles Fruit Company, will see value indirectly.”

Thornsbury is looking at the facility as an improvement in the waste stream in Washington state.

“According to a 2009 statewide waste audit, over one third of Washington State’s garbage was compostable material, so there’s room for improvement and Dirt Hugger is creating a destination for at least some of that material,” he said.

Dirt Hugger will also continue to serve its customers in Oregon, too. Interstate transport of compostable materials hasn’t been an issue, the partners say.

Finding the new site has been a lengthy challenge.

“The gorge is limited in industrial land that’s flat,” Miller said.

Being close to their ongoing customers was important, “but they don’t want us in their backyard,” Louis added.

The new facility is in a relatively remote location and on the leeward end of prevailing winds.

“We want to make this a good fit,” Louis said. “We want to be good neighbors.”

Online:

Dirt Huggers Kickstarter:

http://kck.st/1ndA5jN

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