Western Excelsior faces flak over dust

Dust persists despite efforts to contain it

Western Excelsior's dust along Riverside Avenue in Mancos has seemed to increased in recent months, despite steps the company has taken to curb the problem.

Business unit manager Kyle Hanson presented improvements at a town board meeting July 9. In recent months, the company has closed in an alleyway, serviced the air-circulation system and used bucket loaders instead of fork loaders to move waste to keep the dust from blowing. He said the company had spent thousands of dollars trying to limit the sawdust and straw blowing into the neighborhood.

However, he said that because the company is now producing wattles - nets filled with straw - closer to Riverside Avenue, residents may see more dust particles on their homes and yards.

One of the planned improvements is an auger system that will automate and enclose the production of wattles. The system was ordered from Germany but is about seven weeks late.

"It's going to make a really big impact on how we're treating our neighbors," Hanson said. He went on to say that the company wants to be one of the things that makes residents proud of Mancos.

Trustee James Maestas asked Hanson if he'd sign a memorandum with the town requiring it to keep the neighborhood free of company dust or face a citation.

"Can I commit to trying to make money and be a garbage collection service?" Hanson asked.

Maestas pointed out that Hanson would only be responsible for picking up the company's dust.

Trustee Queenie Barz later asked if the company would be willing to rake Riverside Avenue before August.

Hanson said it was a reasonable request.

He said Western Excelsior also had been contacted by the State Patrol and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about a complaint alleging that employees were exposed to fire and explosion hazards. He provided a letter from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration showing the complaint has been closed.

Residents of Riverside Avenue, however, are skeptical.

Tom Nunn, who lives on Riverside Avenue, said he has heard the same corporate lines over and over.

"Their rights seem to trump my rights because they have more money," he said.

He said he believed legal action was the only thing that would change the company's practices.

Ruben and Frances Maestas said they have lived on Riverside Avenue for 37 years but can't sell their home because of the dust in their yard and home.

Vicki Maestas, who is married to Trustee James Maestas, expressed her frustration at the company's lack of progress.

She pointed out in an interview that the company's goal was to reduce pollution by 30 percent by this time last year. Minutes of the July 10, 2013, town board meeting reflect this statement.

Chip and Bernadette Tuthill said in an interview that they're concerned about the health impacts of breathing the sawdust and straw.

"Sometimes it's snowing sawdust," Bernadette Tuthill said.