An experimental composting operation, ruled illegal in August by a Loudoun County judge, is back in business after county officials issued a temporary permit.

Peter Knop's Ticonderoga Farms is once again bringing in truckloads of tree stumps and other wood waste for decomposition into organic fertilizer at Knop's 1,200-acre site in southern Loudoun.

State officials have yet to issue their opinion on whether the operation should continue. The state prepared new regulations on composting last year, and is evaluating the Ticonderoga operation.

A similar operation run by Knop in upper Montgomery County was shut down by local officials last year, but Knop said he hopes to resume work in Montgomery as well.

Knop collects branches, stumps and even whole trees cleared by developers, spreading the materials in massive rows and covering them with fungi and vines to speed their decomposition. He said that last year he produced at least 20 tons of compost, which he uses to improve the soil on his Loudoun farm.

Neighbors have complained that trucks bringing debris to the Virginia site have torn up local roads, and county and state officials initially labeled the operation an illegal stump dump. A judge ruled last summer that although Knop was not violating zoning laws, he lacked a Loudoun County permit for what essentially is a new technology.

To resume operation in Loudoun, Knop said, he has spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to control erosion and other potential problems, post a bond and pay for reports by engineering and environmental firms.

Knop's process takes years to decompose stumps and large branches, but he said that it's a safe process and that he is being overregulated. But, he added, "We can still survive."