Raising A Stink Over Land Near New High School

Published 9:12 am Friday, July 10, 2015

Ah, the country life. Peaceful. Relaxing. And the air’s a little … stinky?

Pity the city slickers — or members of the Davie County Board of Education — who get their first whiffs of country air only to discover there may be hints of unpleasantness.

The drama over the new Davie County High School is a never-ending theater. Nothing has come easily. There have been pitfalls at every stage, and we have stepped in them all.

Now with cement trucks loaded and ready to start building a $60 million school, we discover an offensive smell when the breezes are out of the northwest — as they often are. We knew about the gravel mine across the road. We knew about the asphalt plant to the south. We knew about the old dairy farms. We knew about noise from Interstate 40. We knew about the Little League ball park. But nobody thought about Pete Gallins’ state-of-the-art compost farm over the ridge near the old silos which opened three years ago.

Gallins collects leftover foods — fruits, vegetables, foods from area restaurants and institutions — and composts them, yielding a nutrient-rich soil additive for farms and gardens. He recycles.

However, he has suddenly run afoul of the heavy and long arm of the Davie County government. The county wants to create a special zoning designation for composting operations which would require Gallins to plant trees and erect expensive fences for a buffer. Then he would have to request and be approved for a county permit — risking that the PTA might pack a hearing with sensitive-nosed protesters and shut him down.

That sounds like Soviet-style neighborliness. Call it what it is: Old fashioned bullying.

The school system and county might rightly be surprised by the odor. The Gallins operation started while the our high school debate was in full flower. But now that the grading is nearly complete, now that construction contracts have been awarded, now that commissioners have raised taxes by 10 cents, now that county residents are justly weary of the 15-year struggle, it’s time to be a good neighbor. It’s always time to be a good neighbor.

There are conflicting reports about the odor. By various accounts, it is either faint or overpowering. It is either in the imagination or unmistakable. Threatening letters from lawyers have been mailed back and forth over the smell.

Any boy raised on a diary farm who mucked stables in spring knows you get used to the stink by midday. Before bulldozers cleared away all the trees separating Mr. Gallins from the school site, nobody smelled the operation. Gallins, trying to be a good neighbor, had already planted 600 trees on five acres bordering the school property before the county unleashed its code officers on him. School officials had earlier asked about buying more land from him for ball fields.

How bad can the smell be if the school system tried to get even closer?

The compost site is on two acres in the middle of a 156-acre farm. Gallins has invited the county commissioners to visit his farm, and some have.

Their decision has been delayed until September.

The county can only hope that Mr. Gallins doesn’t meet Farmington prankster Bert Bahnson who had great fun with the Kinderton development a decade ago.

Perhaps football coach Devore Holman could use the stink as a home field advantage when the school finally opens. With the War Eagles accustomed to the compost smell, they can stink out the visiting teams.

Mr. Gallins might find himself in the War Eagles Hall of Fame.

– Dwight Sparks