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State sues local biodigester company, again

Counter-protestors on the left, including local farmers who use the biodigester's fertilizer and Renergy employees, exchange with protestors on the right, including nearby landowners.
Chris Welter
/
WYSO
Counter-protestors on the left, including local farmers who use the biodigester's fertilizer and Renergy employees, exchange with protestors on the right, including nearby landowners.

Local residents have complained for years of foul odors, truck traffic and potential water contamination from the Bath Township biodigester.

The State of Ohio is again suing Renergy Inc.-- a company that runs something called a biodigester in Greene County.

A biodigester is a series of machines that break down organic waste and produce methane gas that can be burned to produce electricity. Another byproduct from the process is a thick sludge called digestate that's stored in open-air tanks until it can be used by farmers as fertilizer.

The complaint, filed in the Court of Common Pleas in north-central Ohio’s Morrow County, alleges that Renergy violated a number of environmental regulations and permitting requirements at three of their operations (the company has two biodigesters in Morrow County and one in Greene).

At their Greene County location, the complaint alleges that Renergy overfilled its tanks with sludge and emitted nuisance odors.

The suit also alleges the company submitted inaccurate records to the Ohio EPA.

Local residents have complained for years of foul odors, truck traffic and potential water contamination from the biodigester.

Bath Township Trustee Kassie Lester said the lawsuit is a step in the right direction.

"It's nice to see them [The State of Ohio] actually starting to do something for this area, something that the residents and the trustees have been trying to get rectified for quite some time now," she said in an interview this week.

Proponents of the biodigester have said the operation produces green energy and that its fertilizer helps local farmers.

Renergy COO Cari Oberfield released a statement through a public relations firm in Columbus:

“We take very seriously this complaint from Ohio EPA. We are processing the details, and we are fully committed to addressing and resolving this issue.”

Renergy and the State settled a separate lawsuit in April regarding unpermitted ammonia emissions at the Bath Township operation. A class action lawsuit and another lawsuit filed by Bath Township and the City of Fairborn are pending.

Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Chris Welter is an Environmental Reporter at WYSO through Report for America. In 2017, he completed the radio training program at WYSO's Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. Prior to joining the team at WYSO, he did boots-on-the-ground conservation work and policy research on land-use issues in southwest Ohio as a Miller Fellow with the Tecumseh Land Trust.