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Biodigester Protestors, And Counter Protestors, Descend On Bath Township Trustee Meeting

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 and Democratic candidate for State House District 73 Kim McCarthy.
Chris Welter
Counter-protestors on the left, including Renergy employees and local farmers who use the company's fertilizer, exchange with protestors on the right, including nearby landowners and Democratic candidate for State House District 73, Kim McCarthy.

Last night (August 19, 2020) there was a protest, and a counter-protest, outside the trustee meeting in tiny Bath Township. About 50 people, along with news media and police officers, gathered in the parking lot as the three township trustees and a few other community members met inside.

Bath Township Trustee Tom Pitstick leases part of his family farm on Herr Road, which is zoned for agricultural activities, to a company called Dovetail Energy LLC to operate a machine called a biodigester.

The biodigester uses bacteria to break down organic material — like food and agricultural waste — and converts it into methane gas, which can be harnessed as energy. The byproduct of this process is a thick sludge. That sludge can then be used by farmers as an organic fertilizer.

Chris Welter
A group of biodigester supporters surround Columbus based musician Eric Nassau who played acoustic guitar during the protest. The sign in Nassau's guitar case reads "protect Sustainable Agriculture"

But the biodigester has also been used as a method of disposing of municipal organic waste as well. That’s human waste, from local cities, counties, and towns, including Yellow Springs and Greene County. Some local residents aren’t happy about it.

These landowners have complained for years of foul odors, heavy truck traffic and possible groundwater contamination from the facility’s storage pond, where the byproduct is held before it is used as fertilizer on nearby farmland. Fairborn resident and Air Force reservist Brad Martin organized the protest.

“We’ve been fighting this for years and people are understandably getting impatient,” he says.

Dave Linkhart, who is an eighth generation farmer in Greene County, was the media representative for the farmers in attendance. He wore a shirt reading “Let Us Farm, Support Sustainable Agriculture.” He uses the fertilizer on 350 of his acres. He says the fertilizer has not only improved the organic content percentage of his soil but,

“I don’t have to buy commercial fertilizers--nitrogen or phosphorus--for any of the corn that I plant. That’s a huge savings." Linkhart says, "Plus, we’re getting trace nutrients like boron, sulphur, and zinc. A lot of our soils are starting to become deficient in those because we’ve cropped it for so long, we’ve reduced those. And they can be very expensive to buy commercially.”

In 2019, a zoning inspector determined that the biodigester facility was an industrial use, not an agricultural one. A cease and desist letter was then issued to Renergy Inc., Dovetail's parent company, by the Greene County Prosecutor’s Office. The county stated that Renergy must bring its anaerobic digestion facility into compliance with the Bath Township zoning code or face legal action.

The facility is still in operation while the decision is being appealed in the Greene County Court of Common Pleas. Pitstick has recused himself from the township decision-making process regarding his property.

Representatives from Renergy distributed a press release at the event announcing that, starting in October 2020, their company will no longer be accepting municipal solid waste at the facility in Bath. This means a number of local municipalities will have to find some other way to dispose of their waste. The release says the company will instead focus on using food and farm waste.

Environmental reporter Chris Welter is a 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.