Hubbub over GrubTubs

Buda files court case after odor law violations

Alleged violations of Buda’s recently enacted smell ordinance by an area composting company is pushing officials to consider taking the case to court.

However, owners of GrubTubs, the business at the center of the issue, feel the city took action before fully vetting a submitted remediation plan, even as county and state officials said they’ve passed their smell test.

According to Buda officials, the city’s code compliance officer filed a case in Municipal Court against GrubTubs, located on Old Black Colony Road in Buda’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ). Buda City Attorney George Hyde sent an odor ordinance violation notice to GrubTubs on May 23, with Code Enforcement sending a violation May 24.

Hyde said the city met with GrubTubs officials during a June 12 compliance meeting and informed them about the new rules and how they could be in violation. Hyde said GrubTubs officials submitted a continuous quality improvement report, required by the city, that “intended to show and manage their operations so it didn’t harm” neighboring properties. That document was submitted and is being reviewed by Hyde.

But after the meeting, the city received additional complaints from nearby residents, with Hyde saying the smell got worse, leading to the violations issuance. Residents alleged children who were playing outside in the area had to change clothes before coming inside because the odor clung to their clothes. Hyde said some pending home contracts were revoked because of the smell issue. Approximately 50 complaints have been made to Buda regarding GrubTubs over the past several months.

Hyde said he was “taken aback” at the “naïveté” of the owners of GrubTubs and their methods of attempting to resolve the issue. Hyde said they “seemed to not have a great deal of knowledge of how odor passes through the air.”

The violations were issued after the Buda City Council approved an odor nuisance ordinance May 7.  The law prohibits offensive odors within city limits and 5,000-feet beyond it, as well as further defining what is an offensive odor.

City council made those changes after several residents complained about odors from GrubTubs and its impact on their livelihoods. GrubTubs is a composting business that receives food waste from Austin restaurants and then sells the grubs that eat the waste as feed to farms.

If convicted of the violations, owners of GrubTubs could be subject to fines of up to $500 per day it is not resolved. The rule passage was not targeted toward any business or resident, but the activity, Hyde said.

He added the city isn’t trying to run GrubHubs out of town and that the city wants the business to operate within the law and comply with state and local rules.

However, Hyde could not provide statistics on the total number of complaints filed to the city under the new smell ordinance and who they were made against.  The Hays Free Press placed an open records request with Buda officials for that information, but has not heard back as of press time.

“Any organization that interferes with personal rights with neighbors in the course of the way they operate needs to reflect on their conduct,” Hyde said.

But Peter Black, owner of GrubTubs, said he was “surprised” by the city taking the case to court. Black was told by city officials court action was a possibility, but alleges the city didn’t offer feedback on the company’s remediation measures before moving forward.

Black said GrubTubs officials met with the city June 12 and were told they had 30 days to file a remediation plan; he alleged the city scaled that back to 14 days.

GrubTubs officials submitted a document June 26 outlining a handful of measures attempting to fix the smell problem. Included were changing the structure of some of their work aerating their piles to promote waste decomposition. Black said the cost of enacting the plan was in the “six figures.” An exact cost is unknown at this time.

While the business received complaints from neighbors, Black said the company has reached out to the neighbors as much as possible and told them about the remediation measures.

On July 3, Hays County officials told Black there were no violations when they last inspected GrubTubs. TCEQ officials inspected the property in mid-July and also didn’t report violations.

For Black and other GrubTubs employees, there’s been “a little frustration” with the process. They’re now planning to talk with city council members, who they haven’t reached out to yet.

What happens next is a “$20,000 question,” ranging from more remediation to potentially moving the farm.

“We understand there are concerns with neighbors,” Black said. “But at the same time, we want to be a good neighbor. That’s why we talked with the city.”

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