Excelsior plans to mitigate pollution

Kyle Hanson/Courtesy @MT Photo Cutline: Tallula Vijil (left), Severn Black (center), and Marilyn Haun (right) work in Western Excelsior's wattle production area. Black is rolling up a wattle. Currently this is the area the company believes is causing most of the pollution. The company wants to replaces the blowers in this area with an enclosed process to prevent the straw from escaping. Enlargephoto

Kyle Hanson/Courtesy @MT Photo Cutline: Tallula Vijil (left), Severn Black (center), and Marilyn Haun (right) work in Western Excelsior's wattle production area. Black is rolling up a wattle. Currently this is the area the company believes is causing most of the pollution. The company wants to replaces the blowers in this area with an enclosed process to prevent the straw from escaping.

For years, Western Excelsior's neighbors have complained about the company's dust raining down on their homes, but this summer, the management plans purchase new machinery to sharply reduce pollution.

At Western Excelsior, the blowers that fill 25-foot-long sausage-shaped nets with straw are the main source of pollution, Kyle Hanson, the business unit manager, said. These cylinders, known as wattles, are used for erosion control. The blowers face the outdoors, and as straw wattle production has grown during the last two years, so has pollution.

Previously, the company had made more products with wood shavings known as excelsior.

"The straw fibers are much lighter weight, and they fracture into little pieces and act like hang gliders," said Hanson.

The company plans to purchase a $180,000 machine that is estimated to arrive in June. The machines that would transfer the straw using rotating auger blades in an enclosed container and eliminate the blowers. This is part of the company's push to automate repetitive labor.

"Out of the biggest source of our particulates, it's going to all go away," he said.

The new system would also bring waste straw from the production line that makes straw blankets and reduce waste.

Waste sawdust and straw from the plant are currently dumped outside the plant by a conveyer belt, and the wind often catches the dust.

The company would like to install a walking floor trailer that would enclose the dump site, help transfer the waste more directly to a truck and prevent it from blowing away. But Hanson there are no immediate plans to purchase a trailer because of the cost.

Hanson presented the plan at a town board meeting two weeks ago.

"I think it's really positive, I would just like to actually see some results now," said Mayor Rachael Simbeck.

In July, Hanson committed to reducing pollution by 30 percent in a year and 60 percent in two years. Hanson stepped into his current position, akin to a general manager, in November 2012.

Anthony and Vicki Maestas came to the meeting to question Hanson because they live in the area of the worst pollution according to a study by Western Excelsior. Approximately 4.7 million microscopic particles were collected in one hour at their house, Hanson reported in July.

The couple has been to every town meeting on this issue to complain about the excessive dust that has caused damage to their roof and coated their yard.

Vicki Maestas said she was happy to hear there was a plan to improve the situation. But she said she appreciated that the mayor asked the company for an update.

"We need to re-look at this in another six months, so that there can be resolution," she said.

Mary Shinn/The Mancos Times @Photo Cutline: Dust and mulch accumulates outside Western Excelsior while it waits to be hauled away. Company management said this is area that contributes to pollution and management has talked about enclosing this area to prevent the dust from blowing away but has no immediate plans. Enlargephoto

Mary Shinn/The Mancos Times @Photo Cutline: Dust and mulch accumulates outside Western Excelsior while it waits to be hauled away. Company management said this is area that contributes to pollution and management has talked about enclosing this area to prevent the dust from blowing away but has no immediate plans.